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What would the election results have been under preferential voting?

After every election, it is traditional for electoral reform organizations to speculate on what the result would have been under their preferred system.

So what would it have looked like under preferential voting, using a ranked ballot? The answer, according to experts, is that we don’t know. Polling is not sophisticated enough to determine the real preferences that voters would have been allowed to express.

A great deal of the recent campaign was spent telling people to vote for their second choice for fear of what the results might be otherwise. And in fact, research shows that about half of Canadian voters sacrifice their first choice and vote strategically when given the opportunity. Under preferential voting, voters can state their true first, second, and third choices, without fear that “splitting the vote” would mean that someone ends up being elected who most voters don’t want.

The effect of this system on Canadian elections would be very positive. Scaremongering voters away from smaller parties would be ineffective, since you can vote for a less popular candidate knowing that your vote is not wasted, since your second choice gets counted if your first choice has no chance of winning. Negative campaigning is not rewarded, since candidates need second choice votes from the supporters of other candidates, so they try to not alienate them. Since you can only win if over 50% of the voters support you, candidates must build consensus within their community. What creates consensus may be different in different ridings, so candidates are less likely to just follow their party.

Besides more consensus and less negative campaigns, it tends to result in more women and minority candidates being elected. All of this is proven by rigorous research with a control group. The US uses preferential voting in about 20 jurisdictions, about 20 more will use it in November, and about 50 more are preparing to use it after that. Having some cities and states using it, and others not, means a built in control group.

It would be easy for Canada to adopt ranked voting. It is the second most popular electoral system in Canada. It is used by almost all federal and provincial parties to choose their own leaders and candidates. Unlike other electoral systems, it does not necessarily benefit some parties more than others. It might hurt parties who currently benefit from strategic voting or negative campaigning. Those who will benefit are individual candidates, whatever the party, who choose to campaign differently. This is why national trends don’t tell us who would have won. The ability to rank candidates means that local campaigns have a greater influence on the decision of local voters. And since they don’t have to vote strategically, they can finally vote their true preferences, whether it is based on the party or on the candidate, or both.

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