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The myth of the wasted vote

I have been told, often angrily, by supporters of some parties that they are tired of "wasting" their vote. I know where they are coming from but, strangely, I feel no sympathy for the position. In my view, the only wasted vote is the one not cast.

The basic premise of the wasted vote theory is this: a voter votes for a candidate who does not stand a chance of winning in their riding. The voter's choice of representative goes on to, as predicted, lose their riding. The voter considers the victor to not represent them. The notion is that because they knew they were not going to win that riding, they are wasting their vote by casting it for that candidate who is not going to win.

The question I have to ask is: why should that person win? The concept of representative democracy is that the candidate who has the most support, not the least support, represents the riding. In the current electoral system, voters go to the polls and select their preferred candidate. The candidate who gets the most votes wins.

Here's the kicker: Under MMP, the exact same thing happens.

Yes, that's right, we're keeping FPTP under MMP for our ridings. Voters will still be forced to choose a strategic vote to get the representative they don't want less than the one they really don't want at the cost of the aformentioned one who has no chance of winning that they do want.

The difference is MMP will compensate the parties that the candidates who lose are affiliated with by allocating the parties -- not the candidates -- consolation seats commensurate with the percentage of the province-wide popular vote the party, not its candidates, earn. The party receives these seats based on pre-selected lists that have nothing to do with so much as the candidates' performances in the riding elections. Somehow, we are told, this solves the originally stated problem because, while your choice for representative still did not win, the party you voted for still gets a seat who may or may not have even heard of your riding because they did get a small smattering of votes across the province.

The reality is that new parties can, in fact, win seats in the legislature. In Quebec, the Parti Quebecois went from non-existent to majority government in just a few short years, among many other examples through history. All they have to do is win the mass appeal of their peers. If the people in the community of a candidate cannot be convinced that they are worth voting for in enough numbers to carry the riding, why should their party be allocated consolation seats? If their position is not beneficial to the residents of any particular area anywhere in the province, why should they win anyway?

If the problem is that peoples' first choices are not winning, why are we not considering their second choices? Or their third?

Our problem, fundamentally, is not that votes are "wasted". It is, firstly, that people who support minor players are upset that their players are minor, and, secondly, that voters often must select a less unfavourable candidate to block a more unfavourable candidate from winning. Both of these problems will continue to exist under MMP because MMP retains our current electoral system at its core, adding only an abstract layer of completely unaccountable politicians with no constituency as a consolation for those minor players.

If we wanted serious reform that addresses "wasted" votes and substantially reduces the problem of strategic votes, the question on the ballot would be offering us some form of preferential ballot, where voters can rank the candidates in their riding in order of preference, not a legalised pork-barrel scheme where 39 MPPs will always be accountable to noone but their party hierarchy, whatever that party may be.

The only wasted vote is the one not cast.

Posted at 16:32 on September 25, 2007

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