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


An Unholy Alliance

September 26, 2010

Oh, what polls will do to some people.

With panic breaking out in the streets at the prospect of Rob Ford becoming Toronto’s next mayor, some arm twisting and politicking has begun in and around the campaign. The question is: Should Anyone But Ford (ABF) really be Everyone For Smitherman (EFS)? The Toronto Star is all over that idea with articles on both Thursday and Friday touting George Smitherman as our only saviour from the gruesome fate of a Ford victory on October 25th. This pissed off a Twitter-sphere of Rob Ford fanatics who called out bias on the Star which is funny coming from a group of people getting their news from the Toronto Sun. And each other.

But as much as it pains me to say, I have to agree with the Fordites on this one. Not so much on the bias angle although, I will admit, that the Star was front and centre in vilifying the Miller administration and hounding Adam Giambrone into political exile. No, this time I’m in agreement with people I seldom agree with on the idea of EFS. What’s your thinking on this, Toronto Star?

I know anywhere from 55-60% of us here can’t even begin to get our heads around the notion of His Worship Rob Ford. Everything that is within our legal, democratic power needs to be done to avert that inevitable train wreck. But what’s the idea of everyone else stepping aside for George Smitherman?

The man has run a shitty, shitty campaign. His numbers began to drop almost as soon as he officially declared himself a candidate and he’s done nothing to stem the flow. Instead of standing back aghast (like most of us) as the Ford campaign began to gather steam, and hold on tightly to the centre/centre-right vote (as big a presence as Rob Ford is, ideologically he occupies a small fraction of the small  ‘c’ conservative vote), Smitherman rushed to embrace him. This only served to legitimize Ford as a viable political entity.

Smitherman had profile, money and this election from the very beginning was his to lose. So far he’s proceeded to do just that. His campaign’s performance has been so bad that it stuns me to think the man ever won an election. Yet, the good people at the Toronto Star want to reward such incompetence by insisting that everyone else now pack it in and allow Smitherman to blunder on?

On top of which, there are those of us on the left side of the spectrum who might not cherish the prospect of a two candidate, far right-further right battle for mayor. At least not with over a month still to go before the election. This call to anti-Ford order under the EFS banner feels a little premature, and not half calculated to prop up a sagging campaign that has done little to warrant the kind of strategic consideration being asked of voters.

Take a deep breath, Mr. Hepburn, Ms. Doolittle and everyone else over at the Toronto Star. It’s not time to pull the ripcord on this yet, let alone start worrying about the reserve chute. Just because you’ve pushed the panic button and are demanding we fall in behind your candidate of choice, a few of us out here still think there’s a lot of game still to be played and George Smitherman hasn’t proven to anyone but you that he’s the go-to guy.

cucumber coolishly submitted by Cityslikr