The Strategic Voting Dilemma

April 17, 2011

I despise strategic voting. It sticks in the craw of my heart. No good can ultimately come of it.

Or can it?

Strategic voting is the unnatural outcome of an ill-fitting electoral system that no longer functions properly. Negative campaigning and voter apathy are its bastard spawn. It promotes a race to the dirty, dank abasement basement, urging politicians to campaign on a platform built purely on I’m Not As Bad As The Other Guy planks. All desperation and no inspiration.

But there are moments when the alternative, of just letting the chips fall where they may and voting with your heart threatens a much, much less palatable result. Suck it up time, you might call it. Leave what’s left of your principles at the polling station door and do what needs to be done. There is a greater good to be served than your good conscience.

Now may be one of those times.

It would seem at this juncture of the federal election campaign there are only two passionate blocs of committed voters: rabidly ideological conservatives who somehow still believe Stephen Harper has earned the right to lead a majority government and those who can’t think of a worse outcome. The latter group will do anything within their democratic means to stop it from happening including strategically casting their ballot behind whatever candidate is in the best position to defeat their Conservative rival. For their part, Conservatives and their flock see nothing but evil behind such machinations.

Project Democracy is a group set up to battle against a Conservative majority government. You can go to the site, find your riding and see if it’s been determined to be a strategic voting hot spot. That is, one where the Conservative candidate is in the running and an ABC vote could well defeat them.

One of the founders of Project Democracy is Alice Klein, NOW magazine editor. In a Toronto Star article published last Wednesday, Ms. Klein described herself as “a passionate post-partisan progressive”. However, I might think of her more as a passionate post-partisan strategic voter. Last October just four days before our municipal election, she endorsed George Smitherman based largely on voting strategically to defeat Rob Ford. While all her dire predictions of the adverse results of a Ford victory are bearing fruit, I just think progressives like Ms. Klein have grown comfortable with simply strategic voting and not demanding that so-called progressive candidates and parties actually court progressive voters. It encourages the likes of George Smitherman, Dalton McGuinty and Michael Ignatieff to ignore left-of-center voters while campaigning essentially on a platform of We’re Not As Bad As ____________ [Fill in the blank with the conservative candidate of your choice.]

If we’re going to be forced to vote strategically, how be we vote strategically to stop any party from forming a false majority government instead? Unless someone can secure more than 50% of the ballots cast, no one deserves to win a majority of seats. That parties can zero in on 40% with the expectation of majority status should be regarded as the biggest affront to our democracy. We need fewer passionate post-partisan progressives and more passionate partisan democratic absolutists.

Any place where more than two parties (or candidates for the same office) contest an election that still utilizes a first-past-the-post electoral system should be the target of our strategic votes. It encourages ruinous partisanship and quells positive participation. Pluralistic societies deserve better than pluralistic outcomes of their elections where, ironically, only the candidate/party with the most votes/seats gets all the power regardless of how many voters voted for/against them.

We should be comfortable with minority governments, coalitions or whatever other name anti-democratic forces use to try and smear it with. It is the best reflection of where we are as a society currently. The square peg being pounded into the round hole these days is the first-past-the-post system that ensures nothing else other than a majority of the voters wind up having voted against the government that now represents them with near impunity until the next election. Majority governments, whatever political stripe they may be, should be seen as the aberration, the surprise outcome of unusual circumstances where 50% + 1 of the voters have come together and voted along party lines. The regression to the mean, the default position, should always be a minority government.If we voters get comfortable with that, come to see that circumstance as natural, then the parties and candidates will adjust accordingly. Rather than scheming, scratching and elbowing their way to a phoney position of absolute power, they will instead endeavour to collaborate and put together a government that actually reflects the will of the majority of people. A situation that has only occurred 3 times at the federal level. And we wonder why we’ve become disenchanted and disengaged?

So yes, strategic vote away but do it for the right reason. Not to stop one particular party from earning a false majority government. To stop any party from gaining a false majority government. Starting there, we may set the process in motion of forging an electoral system that genuinely reveals our intentions when we drop our ballot into the box.

submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Mayoral Endorsement II

October 23, 2010

My Endorsement For Mayor: Joe Pantalone.

Although I may still vote for George Smitherman. I mean, David Crombie just endorsed him. Come on!

But I’m still endorsing Joe Pantalone.

I am that living, breathing, mushy middlist voting cliché everyone has been on about for the past week or so. The Smitherman team wants me. The Anybody But Ford coalition hounds me. We few, we unhappy few, we band of political brothers (and sisters) apparently hold the key to the outcome of Monday’s election. In our hands, lies the future fate of our city. Oh, the weight of such responsibility.

I, for one, know that George Smitherman will make a more capable mayor than Rob Ford. What I’m not as convinced about is if the city will be any better for that. Yes, Smitherman’s decked out his outerwear finery with the bow of John Sewell and ribbon of David Crombie. Perhaps that’s the silent signal to me that Smitherman will not ignore my concerns if he’s elected to City Hall. Just cross my fingers and hope that all the other stuff he’s been far more vocal about throughout the campaign, the right of centre meat and potatoes of tax freezes/cuts and job elimination through attrition, is just political posturing, necessary in the negative atmosphere that’s polluted election 2010.

It’s a leap of faith I’m just not sure I’m prepared to take.

I like living in Toronto. The past 7 years have not struck me as the dysfunctional quagmire many pundits and electioneering candidates have tried to make it out to have been. I’m not alone in that assessment. Check out here, here and here if you don’t believe me. There have been hiccups, no question. Some self-inflicted, others far beyond our control (i.e. the economic meltdown and subsequent recession). All things considered, I feel better about living in Toronto than I did in 2003.

I bought a house and had to pay the then newly instituted municipal land transfer tax. Came with the territory, as the city tentatively tested new powers granted to it through the City of Toronto Act.  The Vehicle Registration Tax had no affect on me as I don’t own a car and if there’s one major difference I have with Joe Pantalone it’s his pledge to remove it if elected. People may not like it. It may be regressive. But I think we should use all the tools at our disposal to make owning a car in this city a grind.

My garbage and recycling is picked up as often as I need it to be. I don’t mind the exercise shoveling snow from my own walk. I can walk home at night through a back alley, slightly drunk, playing with my telephonic gadget with very little fear of having harm done to my person. I spend more money per month on my Rogers bill than I do on services the city provides to me and I am much more satisfied with what the city delivers.

As you’re probably thinking as you read this, yes, I am one of the fortunate people living in Toronto. Indeed, I may do even better under a fiscally conservative regime at City Hall, what with all those taxes being cut and frozen under either a Ford or Smitherman administration. Except that, what I see emerging from both these candidates is a city more desperate. They’ve said little to absolutely zero about combating poverty, about continuing to work on fixes for our high priority neighbourhoods. Their transit plans are woefully short of properly dealing with congestion. One term of either a Ford or Smitherman mayoralty will result in a city that’s less livable. So all of us will be the worse for it.

Since I am also convinced that out there in the bigger, wider world, we may not yet be through the economic shit storm that started blowing through back in ought-8, and senior levels of government seemed pumped to begin budgetary slicing and dicing at the behest of what should be discredited neo-liberal voices that they are still mysteriously listening to, I trust neither Rob Ford or George Smitherman when the inevitable calls for further cuts start to ring out. I can already here the post-election statement from Ford or Smitherman. It’s much worse than I thought it was but don’t worry, it’ll only hurt a little.

No, in what will inevitably be a rough next few years, I am much more comfortable with the idea of Joe Pantalone as our mayor than anyone else. He will not turn on us. He’s had 30 years fighting for a fairer, more equitable and livable city, through good times and bad. He has the city’s best interests at heart. That, I know, is not true of Rob Ford. George Smitherman has not convinced me he does, either.

Read these Pantalone endorsements at ChangeToronto and blogTO. They are much more eloquent and thorough in their endorsements of Joe Pantalone than I’m being. Then for fun, take a glimpse at NOW’s Alice Klein endorsement of George Smitherman.

If there’s anything that’s pushed me more firmly into the Joe Pantalone camp, it’s the hectoring self-righteousness coming from those who’ve decided strategically voting in order to stop Rob Ford from winning is our only recourse. Hey. Fair enough. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to tell you who you should or shouldn’t vote for. Yes, Rob Ford is a despicable man. Yes, he’ll make a despicable mayor. But spare me the hysteric he’ll be Sauron who actually gets hold of the ring and transforms Toronto into Mordor if he gets elected mayor narrative. It leaves me cold. We will live to fight if this grisly scenario comes to pass.

In answering for my self @arvelomcquaig‘s quandary, I can’t decide if a Ford mayoralty is more worse than a Smitherman mayoralty than a Smitherman mayoralty is worse than a Pantalone mayoralty, yes, yes I believe a Mayor Smitherman would be significantly worse than a Mayor Pantalone than a Mayor Ford be worse than a Mayor Smitherman. Or, to put it another way, a Mayor Ford and Mayor Smitherman are more closely related than are a Mayor Smitherman and Mayor Pantalone.

For that reason (as convoluted as it may be) I, Urban Sophisticat, am endorsing Joe Pantalone as Mayor of Toronto.

endorsingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat