5 votes that changed history and have nothing to do with politics


Democracy is on everyone’s mind during a presidential election year, but that’s not the only time that your vote matters. There are plenty of moments outside of politics in which Americans can make a difference by casting ballots.

Just ask officials at the Spangler Candy Co. This summer, the Bryan-based company proved that democracy is always in good taste by asking Facebook friends of Dum Dums lollipops to choose two new flavors. Voters were sweet on Peach Mango and Raspberry Lemonade, which beat out Strawberry Lemonade and Blueberry Lemonade for the right to replace Dulce de Leche and Mango, beginning next spring. M&M’s offered a “We the People” moment, too, in 1995 when the public was asked which color should replace tan on the shell of some of its chocolate treats. More than 10 million people weighed in — outnumbering Michigan’s entire population. Some voters supported purple. Others were hot for pink. But in the end, blue was the hue.

Of course, it’s hard to say exactly which shade of blue made the cut. Thanks to a 2003 election sponsored by Crayola in which 60,000 people participated, we know that it’s not blizzard blue or teal blue. Those colors were retired, along with magic mint and mulberry. (This only created another problem, however, as kids everywhere had to figure out Crayola’s replacement colors. What exactly is inchworm? Jazzberry jam? Mango tango? Wild blue yonder?)

And to anyone who thinks that royalty can’t coexist with the will of the people, Elvis Presley fans beg to differ. The King of Rock and Roll was the subject of a 1992 vote organized by the U.S. Postal Service asking Americans if a youthful, slick-haired, hip-shaking Elvis should grace a commemorative stamp or whether it should be a more mature Vegas Presley in a studded jumpsuit.

People magazine carried ballots, and more than 1.1 million votes were cast. In the end, voters chose the young, svelte crooner in a landslide and forced Old Elvis to check into Heartbreak Hotel. The result — 500 million stamps sold — was significant enough for the Smithsonian Institution to take notice. Its National Postal Museum indicates that the Elvis stamp is the most popular commemorative stamp ever.

Talk about giving the people what they want. American Idol tried the same formula a decade ago when the singing contest allowed viewers to name Kelly Clarkson as its winner with the bulk of the 15.5 million votes cast. She responded by garnering two Grammy Awards, producing two multiplatinum albums, and jumpstarting the show as a TV juggernaut. Runner-up Justin Guarini, on the other hand, went from American Idol to “American Idiot,” eventually landing a 2011 replacement role in the Broadway musical based on the punk rock of Green Day.

As we approach yet another election — this time in the political realm — some experts continue to wonder what can be done to improve the process and get more people to rock the vote. Maybe the solution is simple: Get Elvis back on the ballot.