We recently had a municipal election in Edmonton, and before I voted I watched all two hours of the video of the candidates’ forum for the ward in which I live. It soon became apparent that the incumbent was only marginally interested in engaging with the public, one candidate was completely out of his depth, one thought he was everyone’s intellectual superior, and three candidates had a good chance of challenging the incumbent because of their enthusiasm and community involvement. Each of those three had a different primary focus, but they were all capable, intelligent, and would have made fine city councillors. I chose one of them for my vote.
Shortly after the votes were counted I read a couple of newspaper articles that bemoaned the negative effect of vote-splitting. That is to say, the incumbent could have been ousted if the voters had not split the vote between the challengers. I was one of those people who is accused of this, and I resent it. When there are multiple candidates, it is inevitable that votes will be distributed among them. This is not a bad thing. It gives support to a variety of viewpoints and encourages diversity among candidates. To refer to these choices negatively as vote-splitting misses the point. It is not a two-person or a two-party race. If there are several challengers to the incumbent, the challengers may or may not have overlapping platforms. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they have all taken the time, trouble, and money to stand up for their community.
Also, accusing voters of vote-splitting is a form of victim-blaming. The problem is not that people vote for the candidate of their choice; the problem is that the first-past-the-post system for elections fails to accommodate a wide range of perspectives. I liked some parts of the platforms of three candidates, but I had to choose just one. If we could have one of the systems that allow for a single transferable vote, then I would not have to worry about splitting the votes between the challengers. With a single transferable vote, if my first-choice candidate is eliminated then my second-choice vote would be added to the mix. That would create a very different result and give a much more accurate assessment of my preferences.
The idea that we should vote strategically in order to oust an incumbent does not sit well with me. It forces me to fit my various attitudes and interests into a much smaller box than is necessary. Strategic voting is only presented as advisable because first-past-the-post voting does not allow for multiple opposition candidates to individually acquire sufficient votes. In those circumstances, the whisper goes out than one candidate has a better chance of success than another, and so we should vote for them in order to oust the incumbent. Sometimes, that means choosing the lesser of two evils instead of choosing a third candidate whose platform we care about.
Before our last federal election, the Liberal party indicated that they were going to research alternative voting systems and the implication was that some sort of ranked voting system was a distinct possibility. Many of us were dismayed when, after being elected, the government announced that there was not “broad support” for electoral reform. I have my doubts about this. I wonder where they went to find out the mood of the public. Perhaps they only surveyed people via landlines at the supper hour. That seems to be the preferred method for pollsters to get a conservative result. In any case, it was very cynical of the government to renege on a campaign promise about election processes when, clearly, the existing system worked for them.
I don’t know how we can go about getting the system changed if elected officials like the process that got them into office. But perhaps if enough of us talk about a single transferable vote and ranked voting systems, eventually things might change. Oh, and while we are at it, can we vote online, too, please? That would be lovely. Thanks.