“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


  • Over 14,000 registered on Anti-Harper Facebook group, 15,000 unique visitors to www.votepair.ca
  • Roughly 6,000 registered to swap their vote (4,000 Facebook, 2,000 www.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.


“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 www.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 www.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


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.


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 www.votepair.ca site.

Tagged with: Election Reform • election results • online activism •

Filed under: Canada 2008

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!