So, how did that strategic voting go?
So in case you haven’t heard, Rob Ford was elected Mayor of Toronto last night. But you knew that, to find out why (oh why??) read my post from earlier today explaining how Toronto electing a conservative mayor and a progressive council actually makes a lot of sense.
But this comment is about the vigorous debate around strategic voting this election created. During the campaign I very vocally argued in favour of strategic voting. That is, I argued supporters of Joe Pantalone needed to consider the impact of Ford being mayor and really make their voting decision as one about who should win rather than just who they like as a person. I still think that was the right advice. Technically, I was correct. If all of Pantalone’s supporters had voted for Smitherman he would have won by a hair, 1813 votes. Since Joe himself and his team would not jump ship it would be even closer. Now that’s not very compelling, no one is saying we should never have third candidates, that wouldn’t be democracy. Once a candidate is running and doing well, with a successful organization, you’d expect at least all of their family and supporting team will vote for them. So strategic voting isn’t the long term answer at all, even though, it can technically change the results. And I would argue results should be what we care about in elections.
No, the real solution would have been to let everyone vote their heart AND provide information on what they thought of Smitherman vs Ford. If we had been using a fair voting system we could easily have had this information from all of the Pantalone supporters as well as the other 5.56% of Torontonians who voted for someone else. If we had a even a simple system such as RaBIT then every single one of the voters who came out would have listed a number beside any number of candidates. You can be sure that almost all of them would have put either Ford or Smitherman somewhere on their ballot.
What this result shows us very clearly and is that under such a system the two viable candidates were essentially tied with about a 5% spread between them rather than the 13% decisive victory for Ford we now see. (This is assuming all Pantalone supporters ranked Smitherman above Ford which I think is pretty safe.) We can never know how all the other voters would have voted for sure because we didn’t collect that information. But the fact is that if Pantalone were gone those people who voted for minor candidates who they knew would not win, would have decided the election entirely! The election would have come down to a photo finish, with perhaps only a few thousands votes separating the winner from the loser. And we’ll never know who it would have been.
In such a world, Toronto might still be waking up today to Mayor Ford on the tv screen. But think of the different tone such a result would have. There would be no notion that Ford had “won the support of Torontonians”. There would be no shame for botched campaigning by Smitherman. There would be no guilt and stress for voters who really did want to show support for progressive candidates and other passionate people they believe in. There would have been a city, clearly divided. With two halves choosing different directions, and one of them had to win.
Imagine if our elections worked that way? Would there be apathy about voting then, when every vote really does count? Would there be anger by unrepresented conservatives in a liberal city (or vice-versa) when there choices makes a difference? Wouldn’t a message about support be more clear when its about the winner and the runner up rather than the third or 5th place loser?
This isn’t some dream, it’s not at all impossible, its actually quite easy. Voters just have to demand it. Luckily all the leading candidates for Mayor said they supported change to something like RaBIT, so lets hold them to it.