Vote swap when your preferred party has no chance to win in your riding.

Federal Election 2008 – Vote Swap Final Report

“I ultimately would like to see the Canadian election system overhauled away from the first-past-the-post fiasco that so poorly represents the actual intentions of voters. Thanks, Gerry, for putting this site together, but in future elections I hope it isn’t necessary because we will be able to vote in a way that does not penalize the plurality of voices on the progressive side of the political spectrum… It is a little ironic that two complete strangers can work together to achieve something worthwhile when our elected representatives seem to have so much trouble.” – Ian Beardsell

Vote Swapping Helps Swing Two Ridings

Two of the most tightly-contested ridings in the 2008 Federal Election were largely influenced by the vote swapping phenomenon.

Esquimalt Juan de Fuca and Edmonton-Strathcona benefited from the decisions of some voters to swap their preferred votes with voters in other parts of the country, through the Anti-Harper Vote Swap Facebook group and the website PairVote.ca.

Esquimalt Juan de Fuca was won by Liberal candidate Keith Martin over Conservative Troy DeSouza by a margin of only 68 votes. Anti-Harper Vote Swap sent 20 swapped votes into the riding, while Pair Vote sent another 14. Those 34 votes represent 50% of the margin of victory for Keith Martin.

In Edmonton-Strathcona, NDP candidate Linda Duncan narrowly beat out Tory candidate Rahim Jaffer by a margin of 442 votes. Anti-Harper Vote Swap sent 88 swapped votes into the riding with an additional 22 coming from pairvote.ca – those 110 votes represent 25% of the total margin of victory for the NDP candidate.

In addition, both ridings were listed on Anti-Harper Vote Swap’s guide to strategic voting, and none of the above figures include direct person-to-person swaps arranged through the Facebook group’s discussion board and wall.

Both organizers believe that vote swapping is going to be a growing movement in coming elections unless some kind of electoral reform, such as proportional representation, is undertaken.

“Your site was just emailed to me and I find it fascinating. What kinds of things would you suggest for voting reform?  Had no idea there was any other way.” – Donna Fidelak

Statistics

  • Over 14,000 registered on Anti-Harper Facebook group, 15,000 unique visitors to votepair.ca
  • Roughly 6,000 registered to swap their vote (4,000 Facebook, 2,000 votepair.ca) across all 302 ridings
  • More than 2,800 voters paired/swapped across the country
  • Over 100 media interviews for the Facebook group and Pair Vote covering radio, television, newspaper and online sources.

Summary

“I’m 68 years old and I’ve voted in every election since I have been old enough to vote (municipal, provincial, federal) and I have always felt that my vote was lost in the great void of first-past-the -post. I’m willing to take a chance and try something new.” – Marjory McPherson

Vote swapping is not the real solution to making our electoral system work. The true success of our movement is raising the profile of electoral reform – until we change the way we elect politicians, desperate measures (like vote swapping) will be necessary.

The vote swapping effort shows that a small group of concerned citizens can harness the Internet to make a real difference. These efforts will continue, getting stronger with each election, provincial and federal, until we have proportional representation. Focus now shifts to British Columbia in May, 2009, to get the referendum on voting reform passed.

Over 6,000 Canadians vote swapping this election have shown they want real choice at the ballot box. The popularity of the vote swapping indicates that many people feel shut out by the electoral process.The fact that many people decided to vote only after learning about the ability to swap indicates that the current system is driving down voter turnout.  Until the electoral system changes, many people will feel like their vote is wasted.

The large-scale interest in vote swapping indicates that many Canadians desire electoral reform: 14,000 Facebook members, 15,000 unique visitors to votepair.ca, over 100 media interviews for both sites, lots of proportional representation chatter on Twitter and blogs.

“The day is now exciting because I can vote for the possible winner who I don’t particularly like and still vote Green in support of the lady who has worked so hard here but has not a chance.” – Bruce

It’s not the parliament we voted for. According to Fair Vote Canada stats, 940,000 voters supporting the Green Party sent no one to Parliament, setting a new record for the most votes cast for any party that gained no parliamentary representation. By comparison, 813,000 Conservative voters in Alberta alone were able to elect 27 MPs. Urban Conservatives were also shunned. Similar to the last election, a quarter-million Conservative voters in Toronto elected no one and neither did Conservative voters in Montreal.

Had the votes on October 14 been cast under a fair and proportional voting system, Fair Vote Canada projected that the seats allocation would have been approximately as follows:

  • Conservatives – 38% of the popular vote: 117 seats (not 143)
  • Liberals – 26% of the popular vote: 81 seats (not 76)
  • NDP – 18% of the popular vote: 57 seats (not 37)
  • Bloc – 10% of the popular vote: 28 seats (not 50)
  • Greens – 7% of the popular vote: 23 seats (not 0)

The fight for voting reform continues, focusing on the May, 2009 referendum in British Columbia. People can sign up at electoralreformcanada.ca to find out more in the coming weeks.

Internet Empowers the Grassroots

Who would have thought two concerned individuals could use free, online tools to launch vote swapping services and thrust voting reform back into the spotlight. These tools include Facebook, blogging, Twitter, Google map, mailing list. A number of interviews were conducted remotely using Skype video. Facebook is the viral game-changer. Half of votepair.ca’s traffic came from Facebook. Twitter and blogs helped to spread the message online.

With more time, these efforts will get more organized and create even more impact on the voting reform issue, in ways that political parties have failed to do so.

“The only reason it was “necessary” for the PC Party to make a deal-with-the-devil by merging with Reform is the first-past-the-post electoral system. If we had proportional representation or even just a preferential ballot, this so-called “merger” (nothing more than a hostile takeover of the Tory tradition by far-right Amero-Conservatives) would have been completely unnecessary. If not for first-past-the-post, there would still be a Progressive-Conservative Party in Parliament today. I would actually have a party to vote for.” – Christopher Murrie

Next Steps – BC Referendum, Growing Grassroots Movement

The majority of people signed up for pair voting want real voting reform, so the fight for reform will continue beyond this federal election. The next focus is on the May, 2009 voting system referendum in British Columbia. This is the second referendum, after the first one narrowly missed the 60% threshold required to pass. A new web site electoralreformcanada.ca is in the early stages.

“With PR, I could finally base my vote purely on the strength of the candidates, their policies, and their records. PR would give us the voting results represent people’s true wishes, rather that a twisted version due to strategic voting.” – Paul dM

Background

Anti-Harper Vote Swap

The Anti-Harper Vote Swap is a facebook group that was set up on September 9th, 2008 by Mat Savelli (a Hamiltonian Phd student studying at Oxford, UK).  The aim of the group is to promote dialogue about electoral reform while allowing people to both vote strategically and continue to support the party of their choice.  It takes a bi-partisan approach with the assumption that those participating in the group share the same goal – preventing a Conservative parliamentary majority in the 2008 election.  With effectively zero budget, Savelli began to advertise the group on various anti-Tory, anti-Harper, and pro-environmental Facebook groups, relying on social networking to get the message out.  He was shortly thereafter joined by a small group of volunteers drawn from supporters of all four major non-Conservative parties.

Media attention picked up significantly as the group began to grow and it was covered by all major Canadian news sources.  Around this time Elections Canada declared that it would undertake an investigation into the group – this investigation later determined that vote swapping was a perfectly legal activity.  Using riding projections found on a number of prediction websites (including but not limited to: Democratic Space, voteforenvironment.ca, electionprediction,org, etc…) the group identified 113 key ridings that looked to be heavily contested.  They matched voters in these ridings up with voters in the remaining ridings (considered safely Tory or non-Tory) in order to swap their votes in the hopes of supporting the strongest local ABC candidate.  Voters had to register their personal information (riding, party the preferred to support, parties they’d be willing to vote for to fight a Harper majority) and were then sent their swap information a few days prior to the election.

The quick results of the group were as follows: as of election day, nearly 14 000 people had joined to support the group, although many of them did not register to swap as their votes were needed in their local riding.   Roughly 4000 group members registered to have their vote swapped (coming from 302 ridings), and half of them received swaps (as those in non-key ridings did not swap unless it was needed to help out a key riding).  In addition, there were a little under 500 registered swappers whose own party preference matched the need of their riding, so they were excluded from the swap.

Implications of the group:

The fact that nearly 15 000 people were ready to gamble their vote on a facebook group set up by someone in an hour demonstrates a fundamental need for electoral reform.  Many users indicated that they had not planned on voting (since their preferred party had no chance in their riding) but did so when they learned about the opportunity to swap.  This would imply that the current First Past the Post system is leaving many potential voters feeling that their vote is wasted if they vote for the party they truly prefer – this raises the question about whether declining voter turnout is caused in part by the deficiencies in the current system.  Many of those participating in the site described it as an innovative way to try and replicate some form of proportional representation and these people voiced their strong support for electoral reform.

The other major implication of the group is that social networking and the internet will playing an increasing role in future electoral campaigns.  The strength of the ABC movement generally, and vote swapping specifically, would not have been possible before the age of social networking.  Until electoral reform comes about, it seems likely that strategic voting and vote swapping sites will continue to proliferate.

PairVote.ca

Pair Vote was started as an experiment by Gerry Kirk, a Canadian who believes our voting system is a national disgrace. He discovered pair voting was used in the two previous US elections and decided to try it in Canada as a way to draw attention to the vote reform issue. Gerry used a blog, a Twitter account, Google map tools, search feeds and a Facebook page, all free tools, combined with 3-4 hours of work / day for 4 solid weeks. Some minimal online advertising was done using Google Adwords and Facebook ads.

Volunteers helped with data cleanup / review and with developing the pairing system. Ranking data was used from democraticspace.com, and adjusted based on how voters ranked ridings on the votepair.ca site.

Breaking news: vote swapping helps swing at least two ridings

Two of the most tightly-contested ridings in the 2008 Federal Election were largely influenced by the vote swapping phenomenon.

Esquimalt Juan de Fuca and Edmonton-Strathcona benefited from the decisions of some voters to swap their preferred votes with voters in other parts of the country, through the anti-Harper Vote Swap facebook group and the website www.pairvote.ca.

Photograph by : Bruce Stotesbury, Canwest News Service

Esquimalt Juan de Fuca was won by Liberal candidate Keith Martin over Conservative Troy DeSouza by a margin of only 68 votes. Anti-Harper Vote Swap sent 20 swapped votes into the riding, while Pair Vote sent another 14. Those 34 votes represent 50% of the margin of victory for Keith Martin.

Photograph courtesy The Gateway, student newspaper of University of Alberta

Photograph by: Simon Ostler, iNews880.com

In Edmonton-Strathcona, NDP candidate Linda Duncan narrowly beat out Tory candidate Rahim Jaffer by a margin of 442 votes. Anti-Harper Vote Swap sent 88 swapped votes into the riding with an additional 22 coming from pairvote.ca – those 110 votes represent 25% of the total margin of victory for the NDP candidate.

In addition, both ridings were listed on Anti-Harper Vote Swap’s guide to strategic voting, and none of the above figures include direct person-to-person swaps arranged through the facebook group’s discussion board and wall.

Both organizers believe that vote swapping is going to be a growing movement in coming elections unless some kind of electoral reform, such as proportional representation, is undertaken.

Some exciting announcements in the fight for voting reform will be announced shortly. Sign up to receive the breaking news, and to receive an indepth report on vote swapping for the 2008 Canadian election.

Further riding impacts may be announced tomorrow (Friday).

Pair vote projections (updated)

The past few days have seen a surge in signups, and will likely continue until Friday, the last day of registration. Latest statistics on pair voters as of Wednesday, Oct 9 11:59 pm:

  • Green – 418
  • NDP – 354
  • Liberal – 212
  • Bloc Québécois – 25
  • Conservative – 23
  • Libertarian – 2
  • Animal Alliance Environment – 1
  • Communist – 1
  • Marijuana – 1

Total: 1040

Predicted number of total signups by Friday, October 10: > 1000

Available swap votes by party

Here is the data that matters most. The number of voter pairs is limited by the number of voters in swing ridings willing to vote for each party.

Potential swapped votes in swing ridings per party. Note that the actual number of total available votes is less because someone who is willing to vote for multiple parties is counted more than once:

  • Liberal – 328
  • NDP – 196
  • Bloc – 18
  • Conservative – 13
  • Green – 11
  • Marijuana – 7
  • Communist – 6
  • Libertarian – 2

View breakdown of available votes by riding.

The swing ridings are determined by the latest riding-by-riding projections at democraticSPACE.com.

May Day – Green party needs swing voters in Central Nova (and elsewhere)

There is tremendous interest by Green party supporters to swap their vote to support Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party. Alas, most are going to be disappointed unless their is a sudden surge in registrations in May’s riding. I suggest people contact local media there, and anyone they know in or near the riding to get the word out that hundreds of votes are available for Elizabeth May, if there are some voters, likely Liberals who are willing to swap. The Conservative, NDP and Green parties are all in the race for the Central Nova seat.

Overall, there are far more Green party voters wanting to swap votes than there are people available to swap with in the few ridings the Greens have a chance of winning.

The latest on pair voting

Time for an update, and probably this will be my last significant post before the election, as I will be away at a conference from Tuesday – Sunday. Great timing, I know. Thanks, Stephen, maybe next time consult with me on the date, ok?

I’ve got some good news and some bad news:

Good News

  • Registration deadline extended to Friday, October 10
  • Ranking ridings for your party deadline extended to Friday, October 10
  • Over 730 registered pair voters, should hit 1000 before Friday! Registrations are ramping up with just over a week to go before the election.
  • Pairing process is largely automated now, using the lists of ranked ridings per party and rotating between parties based on their number of voters in swing ridings.
  • As soon as some riding data is cleaned up, the first round of automated pairings will begin. I was hoping to pair a small batch of voters tonight, now hoping to do that tomorrow (Monday).
  • Pairings will be made throughout the week, with the last pairings happening on Saturday, if all goes well.
  • A few pairings have already been made, for people voting in advanced polls. I have to say it was fun to be the match maker.

Bad News

  • We need more voters in swing ridings, especially for the Green party. The number of possible pairs is entirely dependent on the number of voters in swing ridings. There are hundreds of Greens wanting to pair their vote, but just a handful of swaps available. Green supporters, do whatever you can to reach out to voters in your swing ridings.
  • Those of you who live in very secure ridings, i.e. there is a clear projected winner won’t likely be paired.
  • Few people have taken time to help rank ridings for their preferred party. I’m not sure if people just aren’t aware, don’t understand it, don’t feel they have enough knowledge to rank or just don’t want to be bothered to participate. This was an experiment, so interested in people’s feedback as to why it isn’t working.

Measuring Impact – Swing Voter Breakdown

I will post a breakdown of potential swing voter pairings by party and riding tomorrow, hopefully. The code is in place, just need to clean up the riding data (and wishing I had enough coding chops to have consistent riding data coming in instead of various spellings).

Exhaustion meets angel in disguise

Four days is a long time for me to not post anything. I’ve had to switch gears this past week and focus on the process of pairing voters, stopping my marketing efforts, like tracking blog posts and Twitter tweets, as well as posting info to Facebook. Media requests kept me hopping, and challenging me to fit in enough consulting work (day job). CBC Regina, Global Regina, OrmistonOnline, CityNews in Toronto, Toronto Observer and the Queen’s Journal (Queen’s university paper) were the latest last week to inquire about the pair vote phenomenon. I’ve been amazed (as has my wife) at how long I’ve been able to keep this up. Those years of sleep deprivation training looking after the twins (now 2) and Malia (now 4) seemed to be paying off.

On Thursday, I finally hit a wall. The demands of 3-4 hours / day over the past 3 weeks finally took its toll, and I turned into a walking zombie. Didn’t do any pair vote work that night, just made my way to a pillow, wondering how I could keep up the pace. Well, truth is, I couldn’t.

Thankfully, just when you are at your time of greatest need, is when help suddenly arrives on the scene. I owe a big debt of gratitude to Katya in Ottawa for taking over data intensive work: following up with people when data needs correcting, preparing the ranked riding party lists and whatever other data work I can send her way. She’s my angel of mercy.

Kudos also to Matt Bowen and Carlos de la Guardia, two friends I know in the Plone community (I’ve also worked a little with Carlos). Together, they took over the tasks of coding the pair process, from scanning the voter lists to compiling the paired voters and sending off notifications by email. That was a HUGE monkey off my back. Guys, free beers on me at the Plone conference this week.

Of course, I can’t write a gratitude post without mentioning my wife, Rowena, who has had to put up with not seeing much of her hubby after the kids go to bed, and taking more than her usual share of the household duties. She could be complaining about it, and rightly so, but instead has been a solid supporter throughout.

Now that I don’t have to spend time with data management or think about how to put paired voters together, I’m able to continue accepting registrations for another week while at the conference. Looking forward to reaching 1000 registered voters, something I didn’t expect to happen when I created this experiment.

Thank-you also to the many people who have sent me words of encouragement and gratitude for the chance to make their vote count. Your support and interest in reforming our voting system is what keeps me going.

Two solid resources for choosing how to vote strategically

Note: both of these sites provide analysis for the traditonal form of strategic voting, which means voting for a party to keep another party from winning, rather than the party you prefer to support. A better alternative, in my biased view, is pair voting. Still, the information they provide helps to understand ones’ voting options.

Vote For Environment

http://www.voteforenvironment.ca/

This is hands down the slickest strategic voting site out there. You can find your riding 3 ways, including an interactive Google map. Somehow they pull in poll data from multiple sources, and use that information to update election result predictions according to their voting algorithm. Each riding has its own page, complete with a Google map and a number of statistics:

The bar graph on the left presents the number of votes each party received in that riding in 2006 modified by each party’s current standing in this week’s cumulative polls.

By changing the drop-down menu below the bar graph you can choose to show the results of the last election or the results of the last election modified by any one individual poll taken during the week.

Note: VoteforEnvironment only offers a pick when strategic voting is necessary to elect or retain a pro-environment candidate in a given riding (read: someone who isn’t Conservative).

Although VFE is a partisan site to help voters decide how to vote strategically against Conservative candidates, even Conservative supporters can look at the polling data to assist them in how to vote in their riding and to decide if it is worth pair voting or not.

DemocraticSPACE

http://www.democraticspace.com/

Greg Morrow and his team do a solid job every election on their predictions. This is a non-partisan web site. Every few days they post their current projections, including riding by riding predictions which you can download. On Monday Sept 29 they published their strategic vote recommendations (en Francais) by riding for supporters of each party.

Bob overcomes Canadian reticence

Personal. Passionate. Motivated to action. Thanks for sharing, Bob.

Dear [first name field],

This letter is blatantly political, but it is also personal. And urgent. I’ve been watching the federal election campaign with something bordering on despair. In all my 63 years, I have never known a government less in tune with my values than this one – and that is going some. By the polls, most of us feel kinda the same way. But we are divided among four parties, and that may allow Harper and his cronies to waltz back into power.

Skip to the next paragraph if you like, but I gotta get this 100-word rant off my chest: “In two years under Harper, Canada has become one of the worst heel-draggers on global warming. Our military has shifted from peace keeping to war making. Where we once welcomed war resistors, we now turn them away. In April, the Conservatives de-regulated and privatized food inspection, and we know what happened in August. They plan to do the same for the airline industry. Prisons, they say ‘are for punishment.’ And for 14 year olds. They don’t much like the arts and they don’t get the internet. I could go on. If Harper wins his majority, I shudder to think how, well, American, Canada will become.” End of rant.

What – as William Bendix used to say – a revolting development this is!

And yet, something is afoot. I don’t know about you, but I have been receiving dozens of messages from friends and strangers talking about what amounts to do-it-yourself proportional representation. I can’t say I’ve become optimistic, but I do believe there are two effective things we can do.

The first is to make our votes count. We may not have rep by prop (we are one of the world’s most backwards democracies in this regard) but we can fake it. If I lived in Central Nova, I would vote for Elizabeth May in a heartbeat. But here in Nanaimo-Cowichan, to vote Green (or for that matter to vote Liberal), is, de facto, to vote Conservative. Lucky for me, our local MP, Jean Crowder, is good people, and anti-Harper through and through. I don’t have to hold my nose when I vote. (I just have to roll my eyes at Jack’s car-salesman style.) But if the best way to stop the Conservatives was to vote Liberal, this time I would. With glowing heart. (Registered trademark, 2010 Olympics, all rights reserved.)

Fortunately, voting strategically has just gotten a whole lot easier. There is now an amazing website, www.voteforenvironment.com, that is tracking every riding in the country and making up-to-the-minute suggestions on how best to fight Harper. It is the coolest example of Canadian grassroots democracy since the Free Trade comic book.

So that is the first thing to do: check out www.voteforenvironment.com.

And there is another thing just as important. This happens to be a time when our ability to communicate with one another has never been greater. To contact you with this message, I just had to overcome my reticence about doing it. (I’m Canadian, after all.) The rest, nowadays, is easy. If you do it too, if you contact your friends and colleagues, acquaintances and list-mates, and let them know what you are thinking, we could actually affect the results in some key ridings and, who knows, we might even affect more than that. It’s worth a try.

bb

Bob Bossin
Old folksinger

Silvia writes to Monday Magazine

Got this email today from a pair voter working hard for change in Victoria, BC. Nice work, Silvia!

Here is a copy of a letter to the editor I sent to Monday Magazine (a weekly) in Victoria, BC, in response to an article they ran on strategic voting.

I have also emailed everyone on my email suggesting they visit [www.votepair.ca] and see if they think it is a fit for them.

Subject: Letter to the editor re: Stratego

Dear Editor;

Thank you to Sid Tafler for drawing our attention to the concept of strategic voting (“Stratego” September 25-October1). Readers may be interested in a non-partisan website, www.votepair.ca, which matches voters with others who wish to swap voting locations with them. For many, this is the only chance to have their vote count in our first-past-the-post-system.

For example, if I wish to vote Green but feel it would be a throwaway vote in my riding, and the website can find me a match in a riding where a Green vote might realistically contribute to a win, but where, for example, the Liberal candidate has no chance, whereas in my riding the Liberal candidate does, then that other Liberal voter and I would agree to “swap” votes. S/he would agree to vote Green and I would agree to vote Liberal. Both of us would benefit.

Lest others wonder, this practice has been deemed legal by Elections Canada. Also, the website is open to voters of all stripes. I never vote without getting a shiver down my spine – and this is a way to make our precious democracy even more so.

Silvia Schriever

Everything you need to know

Everything you could possibly want to know about the pair voting process, the current stats on voters and what you can do to make a difference (in addition to pair voting) is here.

NDP has narrow lead in swing voters over Greens

With just under a week left in pair vote registration, the NDP and Greens are in a tight race for the most voters in swing ridings. Winner gets to go first in the pair voting matching process (read how the process works).

In terms of total number of registered voters, the NDP are also slightly ahead of the Greens:

Ottawa South is the top ranked NDP riding while Vancouver Centre and Central Nova are tied for top spot for the Greens.

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