Friday, June 13, 2014

A few thoughts on the recent Ontario election

I don't want to dwell on party policies which obviously had some impact on the June 12th election, but as a poll clerk I had a unique perspective.

On my two previous occasions only one voter declined to vote.  That is a process that allows someone to specifically reject all available candidates.  I actually suggested it as an option to an elderly woman who was upset that she didn't like any of the candidates and felt they mostly lied anyway.  This recent election saw 8 declined to vote ballots at my one poll.  They were all quite adamant that they didn't like the candidate choices they had been offered.  Declined votes actually beat one of the candidates and tied another.  There was a low turnout that probably favored the winners.  It is possible that if a few of the decliners held their nose to vote for the lesser evil that the outcome might have been different.  I would like to make two points in two paragraphs.

Declining the vote is wasteful of an opportunity.  The local paper didn't like the choices either and didn't really endorse anyone, but suggested their readers should vote anyway picking the least offensive of their choices.  To me that would at least indicate to the politicians that a set of strategies and behaviors could attract votes.  Declining to vote indicates a dis-satisfaction, but also offers no direction.  Frankly some parties benefited from this decision and not necessarily the least offensive to the decliners.

The second point is that the procedure to express this discontent is unfair.  Like many poll workers I could guess who voted for whom (some people do give clues), but we really don't know.  Except for the decliners.  Their declaration is more public than anyone else who lined up to vote and part of the procedure requires the poll staff to record their name and the fact that they declined.  Some of them would be quite happy to announce their feelings, but really they should be entitled to as much privacy as any other voter.  As I already said I think declining to vote is wasteful, but I do respect voters who think that is their best choice and feel it should send a message.  Perhaps the option could be offered on the official ballot.

The three main parties carried difficult burdens.  The incumbents had committed a series of scandals that truly were offensive (the one where they legislated against horse racing tracks in favor of casinos was personally upsetting), but had changed the leader and had an attractive set of policies, at least for many voters.  The leader who actually triggered the election (and was a candidate in my riding) had been offered a lot of what she wanted and many supporters felt she blew her big chance to bring about desired policy changes.  Her platform was a little out of character for her supporters.  Many voters remembered the last time her party was in charge and didn't want a repeat.  The third opposition leader had always been gunning for another election  and used some attack ads.  His conservative policies scared many voters who remembered when his party was in charge with horror.  Other parties were considered very minor.  That was the choice that many found difficult.

As many readers might remember I dislike this first past the post system and as usual feel this election like almost all others demonstrates why.  The winners got only about 38% of the votes, yet now have the necessary 50%+1 of seats to rule.  All the other parties got disproportionately fewer seats than their votes would have justified under a proportional system.  One party that gained 4% of the votes failed to get a seat that would have given them a platform.

The numbers are bad enough, but it is worse.  All politicians know that the way to win is to concentrate on strategies to win over enough voters to be first past the post.  In a proportional system if they wanted to have broad based power they would have to appeal to a broad base. 

With only a 51% turnout it is obvious that many people didn't feel voting was worth the effort.  Many who did vote in fact voted "strategically" meaning realizing their preferred candidate was unlikely to win chose instead to vote against their feared candidate.

It is true that if my preference had gained power I would be less upset about the system, but in truth I have seen all parties disadvantaged by this system and at this time am reasonably satisfied with results as I could easily imagine a much worse outcome.  Ontario has its first elected female premier and Canada has its first elected openly gay premier and neither fact was a big deal in the election.

some thoughts as deputy returning officer for the 2015 federal election:

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