Voting Reform – May Begin With The Format of the Ballot

On Sunday April 9, 2011 History Television began a mini-series about the Kennedy’s. The first instalment focused on John Kennedy’s rise to the presidency of the United States. Kennedy’s first foray into Federal politics was when he ran for Congress in Boston. In any case, (whether this is true of not), according to the show, in Kennedy’s first campaign he was running against two Joseph Russos – the name Joseph Russo appeared twice on the ballot. (Presumably there was another Joseph Russo in that district.) This meant that those who wanted to vote for their Joseph Russo did not know how to indicate that their vote was for their preferred Joseph Russo. The Joseph Russo vote was split and the name John Kennedy (if not the man himself) received the largest number of votes. Because of the second Joesph Russo, John Kennedy was “victorious”. This incident is also described in an excellent article by the journalist Seymour Hirsch.

The moral of the story is that the ballot itself matters in elections. What might this mean for elections in Canada?

Last night I participated in a radio show where the topic of the discussion was the election in general and voters in particular. The particular focus that interested me was the question of:  who or what do voters actually vote for?

The Canada Elections Act defines an election expense, as an expense for the purpose of promoting any of the: candidate, party or leader. Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that voters vote for one or more of the candidate, the party or the leader. My guess is that the candidate is the least relevant of the three.

For example, there are voters who:

–        Always vote for the party regardless of the leader or the candidate (Brian Mulroney in a recent Steve Pakin interview said that he would vote for the Conservative candidate in his constituency)

–        Vote for the Party that has the leader they most admire (For example Jack Layton is better liked than his party)

–        Vote for the  best Candidate (In the case of Independent Candidates, it is a clear vote for the Candidate).

The current ballot is formatted to include:

Name of Candidate – Party

Or in the case of an Independent Candidate or a candidate for an unregistered political party:

Name  of Candidate – Independent

This form of ballot does not do a good job of determining who or what a voter is voting for. It guides people to vote for a party through a candidate. In other words, the candidate is the mechanism used to vote for the party. Since the election includes Independent candidates and the candidates of unregistered political parties, this is not a good ballot.

The Elections Act makes a clear distinction between the Candidate, the Party and the Leader. Therefore, it would make one more sense to have a ballot that that required people to put only one check – to divide the ballot into the categories of Candidate, Party or Leader – and allow people to specifically vote for a candidate, party or leader.

Here is a ballot that would be more honest:

“This ballot will allow you to vote for one person. The ballot will allow you to express your vote for a Candidate, Party or Leader.

If you want to vote for a Candidate – vote for one of:

John Smith

Steve Doe

Alice West

Mary Soloman

If you want to vote for a Party vote for one of:

Conservative Party

Liberal Party

New Democratic Party

Green Party

If you are voting a leader vote for one of:

Jack Layton

Stephen Harper

Michael Ignatieff

Elizabeth May”

I suggest that this would be a much more intelligent ballot.

The anecdote from “The Kennedy’s shows that the ballot itself is important in the democratic process.

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