Thursday, April 14, 2011

The perils of strategic voting

An old blog post from 2005, but still relevant.

The perils of strategic voting

by Wayne Smith

Buzz Hargrove created a sensation at the very beginning of this soon-to-be-endless election campaign with a surprising call to his Canadian Auto Workers to vote for the Liberal candidate in ridings where the NDP has no chance of being elected.

This is not what Jack Layton wanted to hear.

But many voters feel compelled to consider the option of "strategic" voting because we are saddled with an antique voting system under which most votes are wasted on candidates who do not get elected, and voters are offered few real choices. However, there are some downsides that must also be considered.

1. Strategic voting is an abomination. If we had a fair and well designed voting system, voters would simply vote for the candidate, party, or leader they prefer and know that their vote would probably make a difference. No one would have to vote for the "lesser evil", and Parliament would truly reflect the political thinking of the electorate. The diversity of our communities would likely also be more accurately reflected.

2. Strategic voting is not even available to most of us. Most of us live in ridings that are "safe" for one party or another. Most of us know who will be elected in our riding before the votes are even cast. If you are not in a "swing" riding where there is a close race, then forget about strategic voting and vote with your heart.

3. Strategic voting is widely misunderstood and frequently botched. To some people, strategic voting just means "vote Liberal". In fact, the correct strategy is to decide which of the candidates in your riding actually has a reasonable chance of getting elected, and choose to vote for one of them. For some people, this will mean voting NDP. For some, it will mean voting Conservative or Bloc. For most, it will mean few choices, or none at all.

4. You could get it wrong. Although Canadian elections are lamentably predictable, you never know. Strange things happen in elections, and public opinion does change during the campaign. A prediction of defeat for your favourite party could be self-fulfilling.

5. Last, but certainly not least, votes trigger campaign financing for your party. The new campaign financing rules mean that every vote really does count, at least for $1.75. That's how much the party you voted for will get each year because you voted for them.

This makes a difference. For example, the Green Party now has a significant war chest, although their half a million votes last time didn't even come close to electing anyone.

But what's your vote really worth? This is the first election under the new rules, so frankly, we're not sure what's going to happen.

Here's the strategic voting dilemma. Should you cave in, hold your nose and vote for someone you can't stand, in a desperate attempt to make your vote count for something? Or should you vote sincerely, even when your vote probably won't affect the outcome of the election? You're damned if you do and damned if you don't-that is, until Canada joins the modern world and scraps our antiquated first-past-the-post voting system.

The solution is for Canadians to choose a modern, fair voting system that accurately translates the will of the voters, as expressed by the votes we cast, into seats in Parliament, and which will therefore allow us to hold government accountable. Most industrial democracies have been using proportional voting systems for most of the last century. Canadian voters too deserve a system designed to ensure that every voice is heard.

When will this happen? Not until it can't be prevented. People elected under the current system think that the current system is working just fine, thank you. One thing is certain-we won't have a fair voting system until voters demand it.

That would be you. Democracy is still, after all, a do-it-yourself project.

Friday, April 1, 2011

My election leaders' debate schedule

OK, here's my proposed schedule of leaders' debates of the election:

All debates are one-on-one. Each week we have two back-to-back, one-hour debates.

Week one
Debate one: Ignatieff v Layton
Debate two: Harper v. Elizabeth May

Week two
Debate one: Ignatieff v. May
Debate two: Harper v. Duceppe (in French)

Week three
Debate one: Ignatieff v. Duceppe (in French)
Debate two: Harper v. Layton

Week four
Debate one: May v. Layton
Debate two: Harper v. Ignatieff