There’s a lot of talk around the Island, talk about how “the left” is being torn between two lovers—the Green Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP)—and how the consequences (just like the last three elections) may wind up burning when you pee—another four years under Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government.
I’m not a mathematician. Apparently you need a degree in mathematics (statistics/probability/magic) to really wrap your head around the phenomenon called “vote splitting” in an election.
Succinctly put by <Votesplit.org>, “Vote splitting is an electoral effect in which the distribution of votes among multiple similar candidates reduces the chance of winning for any of the similar candidates, and increases the chance of winning for a dissimilar candidate.” Here, that “dissimilar candidate” is the Conservative Party.
Three ridings representing VIU’s coverage area (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, Nanaimo-Ladysmith, and Courtenay-Alberni), look like they’ll be swing ridings this election. The new riding boundaries and maps of past election results predict close races that could result in Conservative wins because of vote splitting between the NDP, Liberals, and Greens. Harper’s Conservative Party may wind up in power—again—with support from less than 50 per cent of Canadian voters (only 39 per cent in 2011, meaning that a whopping 60 per cent of Canadian voters actually wanted someone else). The Canadian political system—the first past the post system that creates these scenarios—is flawed, but it’s what we’re stuck with.
So, lacking those kind of number-smart credentials, I wanted to look at it in terms we all understand: pie. I had a magical four-flavour pie in mind: bumbleberry, cherry, grannysmith apple, and sweet potato. I had numbers representing the size of each slice to illustrate how a little bit of cherry and apple could join sweet potato to knock out the bumbleberry. Sadly, even pie couldn’t help cultivate understanding here. I thought I had a handle on the topic, but the more I read, the more confused I got. A look at <votesmartnanaimo.net> helped, but not quite enough.
In simplest terms, to foil the one you don’t want in power, you may need to join with another and vote for the candidate that has the single strongest chance at defeating the local Conservative candidate in your riding. It may be your second choice candidate, but you probably have quite a lot in common anyway, and the bigger picture has to be more important here.
Seeing the writing on the wall, the Conservatives are busy starting fights between the opposition parties to keep them off balance and off-message. Those parties need to open their eyes, remember that they enjoy a lot in common, and settle down or risk handing this election to Stephen Harper.
Some will tell you that vote splitting is a myth, and they’ll trot out numbers and statistics to support that. They urge you to vote with your heart, not with your head. The numbers can support any argument; you just need to know how to arrange them. But this time around, voting with your heart could land us all back in a very dark place for four more years.
The good news is that all of the opposition parties include electoral reform in their platforms, so if we keep the bumbleberry pie off the table, this may be the last time that strategic voting is even a thing. The bad news is that the table is still up for grabs this time around.
Head or heart, I harbour a fear that the whole vote-splitting conversation will confuse voters to the point that they’ll just stay home. And that doesn’t do anyone any good. To them, I say this: “Your vote is important. It counts. If you can’t get your head around strategic voting, go ahead and vote with your heart. Walk up to that ballot box, take a breath, check in with your gut, then make your mark. It’s your right, it’s your responsibility, and it matters. So please, just show up.”