Elizabeth May trusts Canadian voters, but do you?

One after the other I read Elizabeth writing about her trust of Canadians, and then was sent by a different email to a site called VotePair.ca. A similar site existed in the USA during the 2000 election when people were worried about the effect of Nader. It is really flaws in their antiquated FPTP electoral system coupled with electoral colleges, and unaccountable electronic voting machines that incorrectly determines the US presidency.

Thinking about this site it dawned on me: I don't trust voters, especially anonymous ones on a website, to vote on my behalf. In order to avoid vote buying we have a system where the ballots are anonymous, and when it comes to partisan politics you really can't trust someone to be honest. I read blogs written by average Canadians, as well as stuff written by "professional" journalists, and notice their "Truthiness". Is it reasonable to expect similar partisan people (those who are involved in politics enough to care about such a site) to offer a less partisan "Honestiness" to vote the way they promise?

For those who don't like the fact of vote splitting under our First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system then ask your candidates about what type of electoral reform they support. If they say that the current system is working fine, then it is obvious that a vote for them can not in any way be considered a "strategic vote". It might make a relatively insignificant short-term change, but continuing to vote in representatives that actively protect the electoral flaw of vote splitting can never get us out of this problem.

My response to the problem is simple: I am a long-term supporter of Fair Vote Canada, and have been a $10/month donor for many years now. In the past I also donated server space for the project when they were first forming and growing.

If you are in British Columbia, ask your federal candidates what they think about BC's Single Transferable Vote system, and whether as a fellow BC citizen if they will be voting in favour of BC-STV.

According to Elections BC, "A referendum on electoral reform will be held in conjunction with the May 12, 2009 provincial general election."

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Not all swap sites are the same

In general I agree with you for non-goal-oriented sites such as votepair.ca. There is too much incentive to take the vote of the person you are swapping with and just not voting as you have agreed. Your party will end up with 2 votes instead of just one. And there is absolutely no way to verify how you or the other person has voted

That being said I don't think you can make the same criticism for goal oriented sites such as the Facebook group "Anti Harper - Vote Swap Canada". The participants there are united by a common cause to remove Harper as PM.

Sure a Tory could infiltrate the site easily and arrange a swap with another person, but what will he achieve? The opposing candidate in the other riding with the best chance of defeating Harper will still get the vote he needs. The opposing candidate in the infiltrators riding wont get the vote, but he wasn't going to get that vote anyway from the infiltrator. The damage is still done in the other riding.

The non-Tories who join up with a common objective are far less likely to renege because then their primary goal will not get the full benefit of the arrangement.

FYI the site is still increasing in size by several hundred people every day. I think it as a real opportunity to narrow the gap between the results of FPTP and PR.

The difference is?

The goal of the US site in 2000 was to keep the Republicans out of the Whitehouse, a goal no different than the goal of those trying to kick Steven Harper out of 24 Sussex.

I also don't see how this site can *narrow* the gap between the results of FPTP and PR/STV/etc -- what it will do is *increase* the gap given you are less likely to get an indication of voter intentions.

You know that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote in favour of their plan (or, what people understand of it). The more people who play this electoral manipulation game the less you know about any other votes. All this really means is that when a Conservative MP wins that they have more of a legitimate mandate than if anyone else does. In fact, the more this type of electoral manipulation is discussed, the stronger the vote will become for the Conservatives given elections are largely decided by those who bother to turn up.

There are a number of ridings where there the "Not The Conservatives" (NTC) candidates are equally competitive. Who gets to decide which of these competitors will be the beneficiary of this electoral manipulation? I've read a number of partisan commentators who claim their own favorite party as the one most likely to keep out the Conservatives, and I think pretty much all of them are spewing B.S.

At least with the Greens and the NDP they have historically spoken in favour of electoral reform, while the Bloc and Liberals have spoken against. Then again, the Reform spoke in favour of electoral reform in the past, and I now hear very different indications from this twice renamed party now running as the Conservatives. Will the NDP and Greens change their minds if they become more successful under the currently broken system?

Beyond NTC, what other issues are people concerned with, given the candidates and parties are quite different?

On issues like technology law and electoral modernization, a number of Liberals are as bad as (and sometimes worse than) the Conservatives have been. There are many past-Reform party members in the Conservatives that have a long enough memory to remember their populist roots and their desire for a number of democratic reforms.

Does that mean I should be joining a NTL (Not The Liberals) Coalition because of these issues?

What about climate change? Here we have two national parties that want to harness all Canadians to protect the economy/environment (Liberal, Greens with different tax shift plans) and two national parties that want to fiddle on the edges by having all responsibility/benefits only to large corporations participating in a Cap-and-Trade system. Do I then join the NTCN (Not The Conservatives or NDP)?

The Greens keep attracting candidates/funders/staff/etc who are trigger-happy on threats and actual lawsuits alleging defamation (Richard Warman, Wayne Crookes, and the comparatively much smaller recent issue with John Bennett) or even "hate speech" which threaten to greatly turn back the utility of the Internet and new-media through nasty chilling effects. Should people who consider these to be top priority issues join the NTG (Not The Greens) coalition?

I believe in a Strong United Canada -- does Quebec have a NTB (Not The Bloc) coalition? Should we pick candidates in each Quebec riding which is most likely to defeat the Bloc, and claim that anyone else running is just trying to split the nationalist vote and break up the country? Is a vote for anyone but the Conservatives in Quebec really just a "yes" vote to separation?

Where does this type of thing stop? Whenever an election is run against what someone least wants, rather than for what they most want, we lose -- and lose big! And the only way we can stop this silliness is electoral reform, so I strongly believe that those who are contemplating electoral manipulation ask the electoral modernization question first, and not misdirect anyone into believing that voting for a candidate that thinks the current system is fine is a "strategic vote"!

I will obviously not be participating in one of these Vote Swap sites, and I hope that anyone who cares about the long term impacts on Canadian Democracy will think twice before they do!

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Democracy is in the eye of the beholder

I have no objects with the goal of keeping the Republicans out of the White House. Ever. I expect a strategic voting group set up with this aim may have similar success as one set up here to keep the Conservatives out of the PMO. Though I think with only weak third parties theire, such a campaign would still not be as effective as ours would be.

I couldn't disagree with you more when you state that "when a Conservative MP wins that they have more of a legitimate mandate than if anyone else does." because of these groups. Such a statement implies that the existing system by which they get any seats, was fair to begin with. Frankly I think even with this kind of strategic voting, any seats the Greens or NDP get will be well earned as they will still have been competing in a field which is strongly weighted against them.

These Anti-Tory campaigns have more to do with a strong desire to keep out the worst of the evils, then to actually implement any real election reform. As for the logic of a not-the-x-party campaign. Such a campaign only has any meaning when 'x' has a strong likelihood of getting into power, and may do so against the wishes of the majority of the population. The Conservatives fit this criteria. None of the other parties do.

Despite what I say about the primary motivation for these campaigns, I do also think they go a long way towards the goal of achieving election reform. Why? Well, as with many other things such as copyright law and human rights, if enough people start doing end runs around the system to get what they want, then those who control the system will eventually have to sit up and take notice and adapt the system to meet the needs of the people. Think US civil rights movement, Henry Morgentaler, or early cable television. If these groups do end up having any measurable impact on the election, you can bet your Hill Times subscription that election reform will be high on the list of priorities of the next government. No matter who forms that government.

I obviously will be (and am) participating in one of these swap sites. However, I think I'll leave it to individual Canadian voters to decide what they think is best for democracy.

Experiment to try.

To test my theories on the "anyone but" theory of bypassing the failures of First Past the Post, I have been asking the following question of people I know:

"If you lived in Quebec, and lived in a riding that was a two-horse race between a Conservative Party candidate and a Bloc candidate, who would you choose".

All the people I asked so far have never voted for the Progressive Conservative, Reform, Alliance or Conservative party of Canada. All of them said that given that choice they would vote Conservative. They said that as much as they disagree with what they perceive of the Conservative party platform and past experience, at least the Conservatives aren't trying to break up the country.

This is not a scientific study, or an even semi-legitimate poll, but I believe if you try this yourself you will find that this "anyone but" mentality simply doesn't work. All it will get you is governments that are not supported even by the people who voted for them.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Not anything but...

Russell, I fail to understand how this experiment demonstrates anything other than the people you polled see separation as a bigger threat than the Tory agenda. Give people the choice between any any two evils and tell them to pick one, and they will invariably pick the one they see as being lesser. This adds no insight at all to the issue of "Anything but ...".

All this being said of course, I do have to say that I do agree with your general point. I have proudly voted for my preferred party (Green) in the last several elections with no concern as to who would invariably be the winner. I disagree with normal strategic voting for essentially the same reasons that you mention. However what you have to keep in mind is that vote swapping is quite different than strategic voting. The party you support is still getting your vote albeit in a riding other than your own. And yes, your point in the original post that you can't trust your swap partner to keep their end of the bargin is a good one. As such, I would never participate in a regular vote swapping site.

But, as I said in my first comment, when the participants all share a common motivation, and when people opposed to that goal have little ability to sabatoge it, then the arguement you offer to explain why you cannot trust the other swappers suddenly becomes an argument FOR trusting them.

Lastly, you are mischaracterizing these vote swap sites as "anything but x" They are not. They are an attempt to make the number of seats awarded in the House more closely correspond with the popular vote. WRT the Anti-Harper site in particular. Everyone there knows full well that the Tories or the Grits will form the next government. Presumably all the participants either prefer a Liberal government or a Tory minority. By trying to make the popular vote better reflected in the seats, they are reducing the chances of a Tory majority AND making the outcome of the current voting system closer to what it would be in a PR system.

I am going to vote Green dammit. But if I can get someone in Central-Nova to cast that vote for me while I vote Liberal or NDP for them, then neither party has lost a vote (as they would have done had we decided to vote strategically) and we both stand a better chance of getting our supported party more seats. Sure there is a small change the other person might renege, but since we are united by a common goal which would be less well served by doing so, I think the chances are low and most people will follow through.