Q. How does this work?

A: You tell us what party you want an effective vote for (one that elects a real MPP), and which second, third or other parties you would consider voting for in order to get that effective vote.

For instance, an NDP member in a riding where they run distant third should consider swapping with a Liberal in a close riding where Liberals run third.  In that way, the competitive NDP candidate and competitive Liberal candidate each gain one vote and their chances of winning increase.

Voters previously felt helpless, but are now empowered.  They have ignored media machines and party propaganda and voted to enable the best outcome they can get.  Unlike blind “strategic voting”:  Any impact on local campaigns can be measured and the parties themselves can make up for it financially.  Total popular vote for all parties is maintained.

Q: Is this legal?

A: Yes.  Elections Canada ruled vote swapping and pairing legal in 2008.  This is a final decision.  The decision also noted that swap agreements cannot be enforced, due to the nature of the secret ballot.

However, this lack of enforcement is not very significant. Any attempt to cheat vote swappers reliably backfires (a Conservative attempting to subvert coalition voters by pretending to be one of them would enable at least one anti-Harper vote that otherwise would not be cast).  The effects of cheating are only slightly more significant for rabid partisans, but few rabid partisans consider vote swapping.

Finally, it must be pointed out that while vote swapping is legal, intentionally misleading another voter in order to get them to vote contrary to their intention is against the law.

From Elections Canada’s report on the 2008 Federal Election (section 2.3 of the report):

It has always been possible for two people in separate electoral districts to agree to vote for each other’s preferred candidate with the aim of influencing the overall election results. These agreements would be private and secret in nature. It is therefore impossible to say whether they have ever influenced an electoral event or even whether they have been honoured.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook or MySpace, have become a popular medium for political discussion during and between electoral events. They also offer the opportunity for larger-scale vote swapping, especially between groups of individuals in electoral districts with tight races.

During the 40th general election, Elections Canada considered a Facebook group page that promoted vote swapping. We determined that it did not violate the Canada Elections Act. We informed media outlets that encouraging electors to vote in a particular way is permissible under the Act, as is inviting electors to participate in organized strategic voting plans. We also cautioned that electors could be misled by such plans. If the person influencing their vote acts under a false identity, that would be an offence under the Act. It is also an offence if money or any other material benefit is exchanged as part of a voting arrangement.

Q: Is this democratic?

A: We firmly believe that vote swapping is democratic, and is not a form of strategic voting.  Here’s why:

  • When you register to find a swapping partner, you indicate your most-preferred party, and a list of alternate parties you are willing to support.  You will never be asked to vote for a party you would not normally vote for.
  • Registering for a vote swap on PairVote.ca does not commit you to a swap.  If we can match you with another voter, you will have time to contact your match and establish trust before agreeing to proceed.  You can back out at any time, and the power of what you are doing with your vote always remains in your hands.  You are never “giving up” your vote.
  • Unlike other strategic voting systems which encourage you to cast a vote against a party in order to “keep them out”, vote swapping guarantees that everyone involved in the swap effectively gets a vote cast FOR the party they prefer most.
  • Swapping votes across ridings does not alter the level of federal party support in any way, since it’s a one-for-one trade.  The popular vote is maintained.
  • By swapping your “wasted” vote with someone in a riding where it has a real potential to elect someone, you have the power to help alter the look of Parliament so that it more closely resembles the popular vote.  Nothing could be MORE democratic that a House of Commons that reflects the popular will of the people.

Q: Why would I swap my vote with someone else?

A: During the 2008 federal election and the subsequent BC-STV referendum, voters shared many reasons why they thought a vote swap was a good fit for them.

Briefly, if you are in a situation where you feel your vote will be “wasted” because your preferred party has almost no chance of winning, you may be a terrific vote swap candidate.  We can pair you up with a voter in another riding where the race is very close; by trading votes with a constituent there, your ballot has a real chance of influencing an election outcome and improving the balance of representation in the House of Commons.

Q: What if I already know who I want to swap with? Should I still use your service?

A: No.  PairVote.ca actually prefers you swap with someone you know, and exists only for those who cannot find someone they already know and trust to swap with.  We would like to know that you swapped so we can include you in statistics, but you can inform us of this by email at [email protected] (voteswap.ca tracks trends in vote swapping and gathers such statistics).

Q: What if I’m voting by mail or at an advance poll? Can I still swap votes?

A:  Those who voted in advance polls will not be able to pair vote.

Q: What’s wrong with the way the electoral system works now?

A: In our “first past the post” system of elections, the candidate with the most votes in a riding becomes a Member of Parliament.  In contested and competitive ridings where multiple candidates are vying for election, the winner may be declared with as little as 35 to 40% of the popular vote. During the 2008 election, more than 180 ridings were decided by less than 50% of the popular vote, with many ridings in the low 30s.  One riding (Gatineau) was decided with 29% of the popular vote (source: Elections Canada). This means that the majority of voters in about 60% of the ridings in Canada do not enjoy having their views represented in Parliament.  During the 2006 federal election, the preferences of approximately 6 million Canadians were “ignored” in this way.

The problem of “First Past The Post” voting is also illustrated in this video:

Q. What if I sign up for a vote swap, and then change my mind or decide not to proceed with my swapping partner?

A: If you no longer wish to participate for any reason, please send an email to [email protected] the same email address you used during your registration. In the email, provide your name and postal code.

If you have been paired with another voter, but decide not to go ahead with the swap or think you’d like a different match, send an email to [email protected] from the same email address you used during your registration, and explain your situation.  If there is time before election day, we MAY be able to re-match you, or provide you with an alternative method of finding a partner.

If you are thinking of being dishonest or of abusing this process, please understand that such behaviour is against the law. You can email us to withdraw and avoid making an offense under the Elections Act.

Q: What happens if I can not be matched?

A:  We will send you a confirmation email to let you know that we were not able to find a match for you.

Q. What impact will this have on the election?

A: The outcome of the vote swap method is difficult to predict, because the number of possible pairings depends on the number of swing riding voters who sign up. The largest impact is made in ridings where the race is very close (so-called “swing ridings”).

Our analysis of the results of the 2008 federal election shows that we had an influence on two significant swing ridings. We swapped 50% of the winning margin of votes in Edmonton-Strathcona, and 25% of the winning margin of votes in Esquimault-Juan de Fuca.

Q: What happens with my information?

A: PairVote.ca holds your data securely and uses it to match you with other voters who explicitly asked to be matched with voters like you.  You can also identify causes you wish to allow to contact you, or opt out of the database completely, after the election.  Pairvote.ca obeys Canadian federal privacy laws.  For more, see http://pairvote.ca/privacy.

Q: Is Pair Vote affiliated or aligned with any political party?

A: The Pair Vote team is completely non-partisan, and aims to help all voters who want their ballot to count in this election.  For us, this is not about party politics; it’s about helping to make sure every vote truly counts in a less-than-perfect, First Past The Post voting system.  If we can be accused of having any political agenda, it is that we hope a shift to some form of proportional representation in Canada will make vote swapping unnecessary in the future.  Until then, we’re here to help.

Q: Who funds you guys?

A: Pair Vote is run entirely by volunteers who contribute their own time and resources to the project.  We receive no funding from anyone, aside from donations accepted through PayPal.  A link to our donation fund can be found on the right-hand side of this page.

Q. What else can I do to get involved?

A:  There’s so much you can do to help!

  • Use email, Twitter, your blog, Digg, and more to let people know there is a real option for making their vote count
  • Invite Facebook friends to the Pair Vote event on Election Day by posting a link to PairVote.ca on your Facebook wall
  • Add a link to PairVote.ca (http://www.pairvote.ca/) in your email signature
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, saying why you plan to pair vote. Include a link to our site. Send us a copy of your letter and we’ll post it on the site! Sample letters help others with writing their own.
  • Try contacting local TV stations, also, to tell them about your plans to use Pair Vote.
  • Jump into the online discussion. Commenting on articles generates lots of attention and new registrants.

Q. How can I modify my settings? Or unsubscribe?

A: In your original registration confirmaiton email, or in your pairing email, you will always find a link to modify your profile, and one to unsubscribe. Simply click on one of these and you’ll be all set!