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Point-Counterpoint

by Archives October 14, 2008

If you don’t know, Don’t vote
Greg Whitfield

WATERLOO (CUP) – I got a fancy flyer in the mail this week telling me all about the new and “more accessible” rules for voting in the upcoming federal election. They’ve apparently re-jigged the requirements to make it easier for non-standard or non-permanent residents to vote.
Students who live nine months out of the year in a given riding, and who can produce a mailed document or ID card with their address on it, or can produce some qualified person willing to vouch for them, will be able to vote come election day.
Idiots. They’ve got it back-asswards. The point shouldn’t be to make voting easier or more accessible; the point should be to increase the costs of casting a ballot, make it more difficult, in order to dissuade the lazy, and block the poorly informed.
Elections Canada must not know a lot about math or political science. If they did, they’d know about an 18th-century political philosopher called the Marquis de Condorcet.
Condorcet gave us what’s now called the jury theorem. Condorcet argues that in a vote by majority decision between two outcomes, the probability of the correct or best outcome winning can be determined by multiplying the probability of each voter arriving at the correct outcome by the total number of voters.
So, if most voters are at least 51 per cent likely to vote for the party that will best benefit Canada, we ought to allow and encourage as many people as possible to vote, since this will increase the group’s likelihood of arriving at the best outcome.
Perhaps this is part of the idea behind voter registration drives in the United States and new accessibility rules in Canada. But if so, the powers-that-be are ignoring a couple of pretty salient facts.
A very large majority of eligible voters are not 51 per cent likely to select the best choice for any given vote. The factors assuring this outcome are multitude.
Voters in Canada and the United States don’t have the requisite knowledge for assessing the complex policy alternatives presented by the competing party platforms.
This is both due to an common lack of interest among voters as well as unclear messages and outright lies coming from party representatives, all conditioned by the electorate’s startling lack of knowledge about what the policy alternatives will actually entail.
So, the electorate faces a choice they aren’t really interested in between policies they don’t actually understand, and all the while, are blocked from gaining a modicum of understanding by candidates who misrepresent their opponents’ ideas and spread falsehoods about their own policies.
Is it any wonder that voters can’t pass Condorcet’s test?
If we note that the electorate can’t pass the 51 per cent standard, what the hell are we doing encouraging more such people to vote?
There are two solutions we can employ to rectify this frightening state of affairs.
In the long term, we must change the electoral system and party structures. This will require concerted efforts towards civic education: people need to have the knowledge and tools required to assess, say, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion’s carbon-tax plan against Conservative critics’ insistence that it is a “tax on everything.”
The second element of a solution occurs in the short term for the coming elections, both here and in the United States.
Don’t vote.
Not because it will send a clear message of discontent, or because it will show that you don’t find any candidate acceptable: it won’t.
Rather, because if we can’t increase the likelihood that individual voters will arrive at the best outcome, the only recourse is for those people who know they aren’t able to fully assess competing outcomes to stay home.
There are indeed better and worse policy outcomes, parties, candidates, and leaders. So, if you don’t care about, or can’t tell the difference between real policy outcomes, please, do Canada a favour, and don’t vote.

Vote Anyway
Noah Gibson

Yes, according to an Oct. 9 Harris-Decima poll, the Conservatives are most likely to win the election with 34 per cent of the vote. The Liberals are gaining, but still fell second with 26 per cent, and the NDP took bronze with 18 per cent. The Bloc and Greens were trailing at nine and 12 per cent, respectively.
And agreed, whoever ends up sitting in the House of Commons will not reflect these numbers, because our system rewards local concerns instead of national. However, before advocating a complete reform of our electoral system, we should consider actually using the one we have as was originally intended.
Yes, it’s unfortunate that our current system diffuses votes for the NDP and the Greens, but a lack of seats doesn’t necessarily mean your vote was wasted. For example, the Greens owe all the attention they’re getting this time around to the fact that they obtained their largest percentage of the vote ever in 2006. And the NDP, which has never had the opportunity to form a government, has grown into a national party from its humble beginnings about 60 years ago. Case in point, both parties have paid for their current status with time, effort and ability, but isn’t that what we should be asking of all our politicians?
Still, advocates of electoral change have proposed we turn to proportional representation, where seats are distributed according to national percentages instead of individual riding victories. But anyone who is familiar with European politics knows that relying on percentages tends to reward the marginal ideas of every political fringe before they have had a chance to prove themselves to the electorate. Now relative freethinkers like French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have found themselves forced to compromise solely to avoid social paralysis. An unappealing concept for Canadians, were we to change our electoral system to resemble theirs.
And the solution isn’t forfeiting your vote either. Only 60 per cent of the Canadian voting population makes it to the polls come Election Day. But not voting is just playing into the hands of all the people you never would have voted for in the first place. You’re merely giving them a better chance to being elected if you don’t show up to vote against them. This is, plain and simple, how we got into our current problematic situation in the first place.
Our electoral system is directly borne out of the needs of a large, diverse, multicultural country. It was set up 141 years ago to ensure Canadians would enjoy the full benefits of democracy, while leaving room for it to evolve. Let’s not give up now by giving up our right to vote.

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