One of the most disturbing allegations to come out of the electoral reform debate was the notion that people who voted – but whose candidate didn’t win – had their vote “wasted.”
The biggest problem with this analysis is that it casts the meaning and purpose of voting in the narrowest light possible. Defined this way, the purpose of voting is only to elect your representative. Consequently, you either succeed or you fail. Once the vote is over, how you voted takes on no further meaning.
This, of course, is completely false.
Ultimately, governments may win a majority of seats in a legislature, but the margin of their victory does impact the manner and confidence with which they govern. Parties nervous about their future will look to see how they can steal votes from other parties by adopting (stealing) their ideas. In this regard, voting is a powerful signal voters can send, one that communicates quite powerfully to parties, letting them know what they should do if they want to increase their appeal to certain communities.
For a practical example, take a look at the Green Party in British Columbia. Does voting for the BC Green Party constitute a wasted vote? I believe not. I would argue the existence of the Green Party – and the significant vote that it garners – has forced the other parties to react to its agenda. Would we presently have a Liberal Party in BC that is implementing a carbon tax if it weren’t for the Green Party? I suspect not. The pressure this group brought to bear – by making clear that there is a voting constituency interested in Green matters – has been significant, even if it has not won any seats. I would argue that not one of those votes has been “wasted.” Each one has communicated a powerful message.
I can imagine that living in a riding where a specific party is unlikely to win can be frustrating – but calling those votes wasted reveals a misunderstanding of how the system can be influenced and unfairly devalues the voting process. I hope we get over using this language if we end up looking at electoral reform again…