Looking back and ahead: final report on 2011 federal election

Advocate pairvote.ca analyzes the numbers for vote swapping in 2011′s federal election. Watchdog voteswap.ca has verified the claims and endorses them as accurate.

It’s been 2.5 weeks since the election, and the Pair Vote team is still catching its breath. Our small, hard-working team has needed some rest and a chance to refocus on the lives they set aside during the election.

The election brought mixed results. We celebrate the historic election of Elizabeth May, the first Green party member elected to the House of Commons. We lament the false majority Conservative government, elected with only 40% of the vote. The chance for electoral reform at the federal level for now has disappeared.

Yet, the cries for real reform grow louder and stronger. 8000 of you chose not to be a victim of our broken voting system by registering to pair vote. Numerous newspaper editorials, and organized protests like the Day Of Action reveal that citizens are not satisfied with the status quo.

The efforts of Pair Vote in the last two elections show that vote swapping has the potential to become a powerful force for change. What we need is to scale participation, so that vote swapping becomes a deciding factor in the kind of government we elect. What we need to do is to go from 8000 to 100,000 vote swappers. That means it’s time to get serious and go beyond a small group of volunteers, and to build and promote a system that puts more power in the hands of voters, a system that political parties and concerned citizen groups embrace for real change.

Governments will then be faced with a choice: yield to vote swapping and its effect on results, or give in and deliver real voting reform. Until we have reform, Pair Vote is here to stay.

Much help will be needed along the way. We invite you to be a part of this movement. Start by subscribing to e-mail updates. Help build the next generation vote swapping system. Assist in outreach and marketing efforts.

Thanks again for being a part of this experiment in democratic reform. It’s been our pleasure to serve you. You’ve been a tremendous support, both in words and through generous giving. Your encouragement gave us the energy to keep going when we all felt exhausted.

We invite you to read over our final report below, which outlines the actual results of vote swapping in the federal election.

Yours for a strong democracy,

Gerry and the Pair Vote team

2011 Federal Election Final Report

Goals

Our goals for this election, based on the interests expressed by pair voters were (in order of priority) to:

“1. Prevent a false majority by the Conservatives by swapping non-Conservative votes in swing ridings where Conservative party might have won – this party is the least motivated to reform anything, and the only majority threat.

2. Elect Elizabeth May as first Green Party member of parliament so approximately one million Canadian voters have an official voice.

3. For races mostly irrelevant to these goals (NDP-Liberal, Bloc-Liberal or Bloc-NDP), swap two ineffective votes for two effective votes.

4. Where this is not possible, suggest a swap that makes one vote for an ideologically closely allied party effective against one that is less allied. (This includes swapping Libertarian and Christian Heritage votes to get effective Conservative votes while preserving the small party vote total).”

How did we do?

1. Far-right false majority: A 39.6% minority elected a majority government – 100% of the power. This is not good for democracy. The result does not reflect the intentions of voters. Unlike previous false majorities such as Jean Chretien‘s, the Prime Minister’s party is isolated on the extreme right of the political spectrum, while Chretien had two parties (NDP, Bloc) to his left and two (PC, Reform) to his right. This is a recipe for chaos, as over 60% of Canadian voters support quite similar policies advanced by the four opposition parties in the House.

In retrospect, just over 6200 votes (pending recounts) in 14 federal districts (popularly called “ridings”) gave Mr. Harper this false majority. This is less than half the usual sum of such margins. The total votes swapped by pairvote.ca alone in these 14 were 163, meaning 2.62% of the total margin of victory. Pairvote also had an additional 94 orphaned voters in these key ridings, who did not get a match.

2. First elected Green MP: Green supporters got their breakthrough with the election of Elizabeth May in Saanich-Gulf Islands. Pair Vote’s team, including some on the ground in the riding itself, worked especially hard to support Greens who suffered without representation long enough. While Green total national vote was down in this election, this was likely due to strategic shifts to the NDP that weren’t achieved through accountable swaps, and May being shut out of the debate. A swap strategy will be available to Greens in future provincial elections.

May’s margin of victory, over 7000 votes, was greater than the sum of all margins in Harper’s 14 closest victories. In theory, perfect distribution of these excess votes into those 14 would have prevented the false majority, although actually calculating the distribution in advance would have required near-perfect simulation.

Due to minimal demand from voters, and the general collapse of the vote for the Bloc and some small parties with conservative ideals, goals 3 and 4 were also achieved but only on a scale of dozens rather than hundreds of votes.

Voter testimonials

This is my second time voting with vote-pair. I was satisfied with the conversation that I had with the man in BC who I traded with, and I believe we helped to reinforce the NDP vote in his neighborhood, while satisfying his Liberal intentions here in Toronto. We both exchanged an email to confirm our votes to each other after the election. EASY!

Luke

“Riding: North Vancouver. Now happily paired with an intelligent voter in Calgary who is going to vote Green Party while I am voting for the Liberal candidate. I feel empowered. PairVote works.

Janet

“Just want to let you know how thrilled, grateful and impressed I am with your brilliance and volunteer investment in this initiative. It’s the first time in YEARS that I’ve been excited to vote, buoyed by understanding that my vote authentically counts for more than what desperate strategic voting offered.”

Further testimonials available http://www.votepair.ca/voter-stories-can2011/

Swap Statistics

78k unique visitors of www.pairvote.ca during the election, leading to 7522 completed registrations, an extremely high (9.6%) acquisition rate.

Pair Vote matched a voter in a close race (swing riding) with one who was not, to maximize voting impact. Both voters ensured a vote for their party of choice, plus one vote had a real chance of electing someone. That’s the best vote swapping can do within our broken voting system.

  • Total registered: 7522
  • Total swaps made across 40 swing ridings: 1713 (3426 votes) (unconfirmed swaps, does not include informal swaps done over final two days of election)
  • Total swaps made across the 14 decisive swing ridings: 163
  • Swaps in favour of, per party:
    • Liberal:1488 swaps
    • NDP: 1367 swaps
    • Green: 838 swaps
    • Bloc: 21 swaps

In order of most total swapped votes:

  • Kitchener–Waterloo 145 (LIB) – Conservative elected, less than 4% more of pop. vote vs Lib. (2144 votes)
  • Kingston and the Islands 125 (LIB) – Liberal Elected less than 5% more of the pop. vote vs Cons. (2651 votes)
  • Guelph 122(LIB) – Liberal Elected less than 10% more of pop. vote vs. Cons (6322 votes)
  • Saanich–Gulf Islands 108 (Green) – Green elected more than 10% more of the pop. vote vs. Cons (7359 votes)
  • Edmonton Centre 98 (LIB) – Conservative elected, more than 20% more of the pop. vote vs. Lib (10918 votes)

In order of greatest provable impact of formally swapped votes:

  • Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca, margin of victory: 406 swapped: 63 (16% of victory margin)
  • Winnipeg South, margin of victory: 696, swapped in: 72 (10% of victory margin)
  • Kitchener–Waterloo, margin of victory: 2144, swapped in: 145 (7% of victory margin)

Swap Statistics from the 14 districts clinching the Conservative majority:

  • Total Registered Voters: 263 (translates to 526 votes)
  • Total Swaps In: 163 (translates to 326 votes)
  • Orphaned participants : 94 (translates to 188 votes)

To see a full listing of swaps please see http://www.votepair.ca/voting-intentions/

Summary: We made a difference

Using the first past the post system in a diverse multi-party country does not allow for the majority of the stakeholders to have their say. It threatens our ability to have multi-parties and forces citizens into ‘strategically’ voting, pairing to try and find a way to affect the outcome of the election.

Voter apathy is at another high. 61% of eligible voters took party on May 2, 2011, a mere 2% more than 2008. This is a national shame; The first past the post system is partially to blame. Voter testimonials, above, show that people paired with swing voters felt real excitement and commitment to the process. Some whose votes have provably never counted, now count in ever election. This suggests we could improve turnout with any of these:

  • More party-proportional voting systems (STV, MMP, or hybrids like BSTV+C+L) that count popular vote.
  • Ranked ballots (123/IRV) as used in Green and Conservative leadership elections that count second choices.
  • Runoff elections, as in some US mayoralty elections (San Francisco) or the French presidential race.

Surely any of these proven approaches would be fairer than 6200 voters giving an ideologically-isolated 39.6% the unchecked power of the Prime Minister’s office, including appointment of Senators, Supreme Court justices, and the right to declare war. They would also be superior to a dedicated cadre of vote swappers seizing balance of power.

Pair Vote intends to continue to make a difference, and to continue to oppose false majority government and unfair exclusions of widely-supported parties from the debates, and under-representation of such parties in legislatures.

Next steps

Pairvote.ca will continue to build the grassroots movement toward electoral reform. We are preparing for the Ontario Provincial Elections, October 2, 2011, and intend again to prevent a false majority by any leading party of the far left or right, and intend again to elect Green leaders and deputies to give those voters some voice.

We will include a ranking ballot system to improve and maximize our ability to pair voters, and ask voters for other priorities such as electing women or youth, opposing corruption, enabling transparency and open process.

Background

PairVote.ca

Pair Vote was started as an experiment by Gerry Kirk, a Canadian who believes our voting system is what ills our democracy. He discovered pair voting was used in US elections and decided to try it in the 2008 federal election in Canada as a way to draw attention to the vote reform issue. The response was tremendous, clearly tapping into a desire people had to make their vote count (see http://www.votepair.ca/canada-2008/final-report/ ). Pair Vote was also used in the 2009 BC provincial election, to support the electoral referendum in that province.

Pair vote is 100% volunteer driven by individuals interested in electoral reform and helping to represent the under-represented.

Voteswap.ca

The voteswap.ca watchdog organization was started by Andrea Witzke, a Canadian whose son Brandon Witzke was unlawfully imprisoned, deprived of water, physically beaten, and defamed by officials in the press after the G20 in Toronto. A programmer and web developer by trade, Andrea worked to co-ordinate several efforts including the Vote Swap Canada 2011 facebook app, a facebook group widely used in 2008, pairvote.ca and some informal swap mechanisms. Thanks to her, these groups are committed to transparent free softwaredevelopment and a robust voter privacy policy that will enable maximum cooperation and coordination in all future elections.

Voteswap.ca’s coordination was also extremely important for press briefings and answering frequent questions from voters and the press. Its FAQ is considered the most complete and authoritative on the subject of strategic vs. swap voting, security and cheating problems, the history of the movement, and how its integrity is assured. It also provided the coordination of data and final reports that made this press release’s verification possible.