Will my vote matter?


in Canada, Geek stuff, Internet matters, Law, Politics, Rants

Previously, I created a flowchart for use in voting in Canadian elections. It occurred to me today that it could be interesting to elaborate the concept into a website.

The site would allow people to enter their riding and rank their preferences for either local candidates or parties. It could then estimate the odds that their vote will make a difference they care about. For instance, if someone strongly prefers Party X to Party Y, and both candidates have a shot at winning in that person’s riding, then their vote is relatively likely to matter. By contrast, if someone hates both Party A and Party B equally, and one of their candidates is basically certain to win, then that person’s vote is relatively unlikely to matter.

There are different possible methodologies for the site. For instance, it could be based entirely on past election results, entirely on polling data, or on some combination of the two.

In circumstances where a person is told that their vote is unlikely to matter – for instance, if they prefer a party with minority support in every riding – the website could direct the person to more information on electoral reform and alternative electoral systems like the various kinds of proportional representation.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of those ideas that falls into the “things that may be interesting to discuss, but which I do not have the time to actually do” category.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

BuddyRich April 15, 2011 at 10:07 am

Wasn’t there a vote sharing website last election?

A bit of googling found this story:


At least its been deemed legal.

and a bit more found this:


So it looks like what you want exists.

Zhu April 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

Regardless on whether your vote matters or not for a given riding, I think it’s a good idea to think of voting as your duty.

Anon April 15, 2011 at 11:13 am

Even for very close races, the chances a particular vote will matter are extremely small.

Another way of phrasing the question is: “What are the odds the election in my riding will be either a tie, or a situation where someone I oppose wins by a single vote?”

In every other circumstance, your vote won’t matter. That is why some people argue with a fair degree of mathematical convincingness that it is never rational to vote.

alena April 15, 2011 at 11:33 am

I agree that voting is a privilege of our system and also our responsibility. You may be disappointed with the result (as I almost always am), but at least you have expressed your self. One voice of dissent often starts a rebellion and so there is always hope.

Alison April 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm

In ridings like North Vancouver Capilano, where more people voted against Conservative candidate Andrew Saxton than for him (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canadavotes/riding/287/), the cost of non-Liberal self-expression is a vote for the bad guy.

Canada needs electoral reform.

Milan April 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Voting itself may matter less than signalling your intention to vote, provided other people pay attention to what you do.

Tristan April 16, 2011 at 3:28 am

I think voting should be separated from questions like “what party do you support”, “how would you like to see politics conducted”, or “do you consider the state legitimate”.

Morally, I support the boycott of the election – I think that, rather than voting for a party which might be slightly more in line with my values, is the truly idealistic move. The party system can not actually deal with the problems Canada faces, and we’re fooling ourselves thinking that “oh, if only the NDP could form government, things would be ok”. Yes, the NDP, Greens and the Bloc have far better platforms than the Libs and the Cons, but only because they do not require the same kind of financial sector support – and as soon as they were to become mainstream, their positions would “centralize” (code word for supporting big business and the criminal financial industry).

But voting is not about idealism. Voting is not about democracy. Voting is about winners and losers, and that’s why I’m biting my tongue and voting Liberal. Because it matters whether one hack rather than another hack gets in.

oleh April 16, 2011 at 8:35 am

Voting is one very direct occasion when I exercise my rights as a citizen. I may feel there is a better system – such as one with an element of proportional representation, where every vote counts more directly. However, I feel that my vote counts in whatever real or symbolic way.

I seem to be struggling other election in how to cast my one vote.

Your flow chart helps.

Rachel April 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm

In case anyone here hasn’t seen this yet, it highlights ridings where vote splitting is likely to lead to a Conservative win, and makes suggestions as to which candidate is most likely to prevent the Conservative candidate from taking the seat.


I find it sad that my personal political campaign this election has been about nothing but trying to prevent the Conservatives from winning a majority. I haven’t even read bios about the candidates in my riding. We need reform so desperately.

Lynn April 17, 2011 at 7:59 am

I think such a site would be dangerous – it would only encourage people not to vote. My own riding is likely to be a Conservative landslide and yet, I will still be out there voting – but so many others in my riding won’t bother because they don’t see the point. There will never be any change in this riding unless those who think it’s all sewn up actually get out there and try to change things. In fact, I would wager that if I could get every single person in this riding who was anti-Conservative to just SHOW UP, we could win.

Jennie April 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm

But as parties receive money depending on the number of people who vote, there is always an incentive as you can directly fund the party you support and signal your support and the perspective on the issues of one more person in your riding.

Tristan April 18, 2011 at 10:19 am

But, as the amount of money they receive is something like 2$, it would be trivial for many Canadians to give a far larger (say, 10$?) to the party they actually support. And there are many ways of signalling your support other than money or votes.

It seems to me that everyone has an emotional incentive, a desire for their vote to count – but in reality your vote does not count. And it’s not like your vote would “count” for a lot more in a PR system (although, not to say it wouldn’t be an improvement). The key political question is not “does your vote count” but “do the parties you can vote for represent your interests”. Unless parties with chances at winning actually represent the common interests of “Canadians” (and “Canadians” can’t just mean white anglo saxon middle class protestants), voting can not be an expression of a representative mandate.

. April 18, 2011 at 10:20 am

I support the Boycott and I’m Voting Liberal

We should separate the act of voting from our conception of political action. Voting is not political – and to think of voting as genuinely political is to morally endorse a system which systematically excludes “the people” from political discourse. Democratic politics is about building movements which can by the force of masses take away the power which can no longer be trusted to elites.

If you support a movement which offers genuine critiques of the current state structure, you should support it materially and with your labour, and not only on election day. I lend my moral support to the election boycott; I think it’s the correct idealist (and revolutionary-practical) response to the corruption at the root of our system. But, even if you support a movement which does participate in the elections, like Green or NDP, you should not confuse with the number of votes your movement might receive with its strength. The strength of grassroots movements is not only in what happens on election day, it is in the everyday life of organizing a grassroots movement which extends throughout the year and does not rely exclusively on candidates, MPs or elections. To think a small party can intervene in politics through elections rather than through mass organizing is a pathetic mistake, and parties doing this should fail and leave room for movements which are willing to organize both inside and outside elections.

Since voting is not political, no matter what political movement you support, so long as it is to the left of Harper, you should vote liberal. You should not believe that in voting liberal you are “granting the liberals a mandate” (that’s empty political rhetoric), and you should not think of yourself as “selling out”. The real sell-out is to think that by voting by your conscience you are somehow doing your democratic duty, and doing what if everyone did would somehow make us ok. The real sell-out is to think that voting in any way other than “strategically” might matter.

Voting is not about democracy. Voting is not about ideals. Voting is about who wins, and who gets screwed as a result. Less people get screwed if there is a liberal minority as opposed to a conservative minority. So, you have to vote liberal.


dot April 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Vote-splitting expected to benefit Tories most
New Democrat gains in Quebec could give the Conservatives an easy election win
Tobi Cohen, With Files From Peggy Curran; Postmedia News
   As NDP support continues to rise in the polls, will the left-wing votesplitting phenomenon be a serious game changer and prove to be a boon for the Tories in their quest for a majority?
   While it’s not unusual for the New Democrats to experience a surge during a campaign -party leader Jack Layton often outperforms his competitors in the English-language debate, resulting in a spike -it usually peters out come election day.
   Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe has said Layton is unlikely to become prime minister on May 2, but there is a sense NDP voters who tend to switch to the Liberals at the last minute aren’t going to do that this time.
   Despite Michael Ignatieff’s efforts to paint a vote for the NDP as a vote for Stephen Harper -something pollster Darrell Bricker said has been a Liberal strategy since 2004 -things are different this election.
   “It only works if the public actually perceives the Liberals as having a potential to stop the Tories,” the Ipsos Reid president said in an interview.
   “I don’t know that that’s actually correct this time.”
   He suggested the centrist party “abandoned” its right-wing supporters by “tacking left” in a bid to woo NDP votes, and since that’s not working, the Liberals have been left on “a very narrow piece of ground to stand on.”

Milan April 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Young people should definitely make a special effort to vote. Otherwise, they will continue to be governed by people who largely ignore or oppose their interests.

anon April 25, 2011 at 1:09 am

“Young people should definitely make a special effort to vote. Otherwise, they will continue to be governed by people who largely ignore or oppose their interests.”

This expression involves a fallacy of equivocating between a group and members of a group. It may be true that if, as a group, “young people” do not begin to vote in larger numbers, they will as a group continue to be governed by a group who ignore/oppose their interests. However, young people as a group can not “make a special effort to vote” – that maxim applies to individuals. And individuals who make up the group of young people will continue or not continue to be governess by the current elites whether or not they, as individuals, make a special effort to vote.

This fallacy is the same as the one on which the way we think about democracy is based. Voters are a group, and they are treated as individuals, and encouraged to act as individuals. Organization of “the people” or any portion of “the people” (i.e. young people, black people, etc…) is always opposed by ruling elites because a group acting as a group can change the who and the how of power.

The moment of an election is only political if the people organize and field candidates who represent their interests. Otherwise it is the endless repetition of libidinal, psychology-control group tested sound-bite politics in which different factions of the elite vie with each other for power.

Milan April 25, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Politicians pay attention to who votes for them. If young people start doing it in greater numbers, politicians will make more effort to court them. Some of that will be gimmicks, but some might be helpful policy changes that benefit the young. For instance, measures that could reduce house prices or constrain medical spending at sustainable levels.

anon April 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm

“Some of that will be gimmicks”

Can anyone think of some tokenistic attempts to gain the youth vote which have been used in the current election? Why should we expect a higher youth vote would do any more than produce more gimmicks – which is all politiciens with a chance of winning offer to the working and middle class anyway.

Milan April 25, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Twitter seems like a gimmick to me, though not one aimed only at the young.

oleh April 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm

The act of not voting because one can not think of who to vote seems like such a waste of a privilege. We are so lucky to be able to vote in basically fair elections. If you feel that you cannot vote for any of the established parties, consider voting for a less established party or even an independent candidate. I am considering voting for an independent candidate. I just do not want to be included in that figure of people with the vote, who did not bother to do so.

. April 25, 2011 at 5:51 pm
anon April 25, 2011 at 9:18 pm

“If you feel that you cannot vote for any of the established parties, consider voting for a less established party or even an independent candidate.”

What if you feel voting is a symbolic approval of a regime which is guilty of establishing and maintaining an effectively slave labour force through the temporary foreign migrant worker program?

What if you feel that voting for a non-standard party is to advance the view that the electoral system can be used as a tool to bring about change away from the political consensus shared by all electable parties? What if you do not hold that view?

What if you feel that our system makes a mockery of the name “democracy”, and that democracy can not be reclaimed through any amount of voting within the existing framework?

If you believe that the advantage of liberal democracy is tolerance of a vast spectrum of views, why do you exhibit intolerance towards those who would non-violently advance political reform projects which do not attempt to make use of our “democracy institutions”?

. April 25, 2011 at 9:23 pm

“Michael Ignatieff announced a new $1-billion education program Tuesday aimed at helping high school students, especially those from low-income families, get to college or university.

The “Canadian Learning Passport” will offer $4,000 tax-free grants to every high school student who chooses to go to university, college or CEGEP, according to a news release given to reporters covering the Ignatieff campaign.”


anon April 25, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Ignatieff’s “1000$ per year” is not nothing, but it is insulting given that tuition has risen by far more than 1000$ per year in the recent decades, and with no promise of a tuition freeze it will continue to rise – perhaps by another 1000$ per year?

This kind of money splash, which fails to acknowledge the structural issues faced by students and other young people in an economy which does not offer most of them anything comparable to the opportunities of their parents, is what a public-relations obsessed political system offers young people.

anon April 25, 2011 at 9:33 pm

“I just do not want to be included in that figure of people with the vote, who did not bother to do so.”

If you submit an empty ballot, your vote is counted as a “rejected ballot”. A blank ballot is a clear sign that you “bothered to vote”, and that you do not wish to vote for any of the candidates.

oleh May 2, 2011 at 2:04 am

In 5 hours those in Ontario get to vote and in 8 hours we in British Columbia get to vote. Although I am not thrilled with any of the national parties for various reasons, I still will exercise my vote.

Milan May 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm

This seems like an unusually suspenseful election. Given that national polls don’t provide direct information on how the distribution of seats will look, it is very hard to predict what kind of government is being elected right now.

anon May 2, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Perhaps Canadians will elect an NDP “government in waiting”, like they elected a conservative “government in waiting” while the newly united conservatives were still an unknown quantity. Many years later, they are still an unknown quantity, except for all the things we know about them. And those things are mostly bad.

I’m tired of evil right wing governments. Let’s have some evil left wing governments! Everyone likes a change, right?

Yoga November 11, 2011 at 1:20 am

Wonderful piece of writing.

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