Will strategic voting and vote swapping usher in a new government on October 19?

NDP leader Tom Mulcair and his wife Catherine arrive at a campaign event in Montreal.
NDP leader Tom Mulcair arrives at a campaign event in Montreal, Quebec, October 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

American author Robert Byrne once stated, “democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least.”

That phrase seems to be the motto of our current Canadian federal election. Some people seem to have taken a dislike our current prime minister, Stephen Harper and his Conservative party - and they’ve decided to do something about it.

You have probably heard of strategic voting this election. Maybe you’ve even heard of vote-swapping. But what do those concepts really mean? How do they play into our current election? Finally, how do they reflect on what is going on in this election?

The 2015 election is being called on of the most important elections Canada has ever seen. There is a lot at stake in this election: the economy, the environment, foreign policy and more.

Some people are highly dissatisfied with the record of the current government, which has been in power for ten years, and they want real change - and they have built up momentum to get it.

There are grass-root groups that have formed with the purpose to affect change and get rid of the current government. They’ve formed associations which urge Canadians to vote strategically and/or vote-swap to vote out our current government.

What is strategic voting?

Strategic voting means you are voting for the candidate in your home riding that has the best chance to defeat the Conservative candidate in the same riding. The plan of these strategic voting groups is to get the Conservatives out, one riding at a time.

So for example, say you’re in a Conservative riding, the second most popular party in that riding are the Liberals, but you really want to vote Green. Well, if you were to vote strategically, you would cast your vote for the Liberal candidate in your riding instead of the Green party candidate – even if you may not like the Liberal candidate all that much.

Strategic voting is part and parcel of the ABC campaign – Anything But Conservative.

The movement has been gaining momentum recently. LeadNow, one of the organizations that have organized a strategic voting campaign during this election, boasts that almost 90,000 people have signed up and pledged to vote strategically on October 19th.

What is vote swapping?

This is another strategy that is only slightly different from the strategic voting. With vote swapping, you pair up with another voter, through the website. Then, like in the strategic voting method, you vote for a candidate that you may like less than the one you originally planned to vote for, but who has the best chance at succeeding against the candidate you don’t like in your riding. Your paired voter will then vote for the candidate in their riding that has the best chance at defeating the Conservative candidate.

Voting with your Conscience

Opponents of strategic voting say that one should vote with their conscience of who they believe is the best party and leader to govern this country – not just to get rid of a leader or a party.

Is it legal?

Vote swapping/strategic voting was also used in the 2008 election, and Elections Canada has said it’s legal to vote-swap or vote strategically. However, it also warned that this method could be used to trick voters into voting for a party one of the voting buddies doesn’t really want to vote for – and that, my friends, isn’t legal.

The Canada Elections Act makes it Illegal to persuade a person to vote, or not to vote or to vote for or against a certain candidate by “any pretense or contrivance.”

Will it work?

We will know the answer to that either late night on October 19 or early morning on October 20.

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