Want a “balanced” city council? That seems to be the mantra for the multitude of parties intent on releasing Vision Vancouver’s hold on city hall. If that is your goal, too, how might it be achieved in an at-large voting system with 49 candidates running for election? What’s the smart thing to do?
- The Green Party says the “best way to a balanced council” is to vote for the three Greens first.
- OneCity Vancouver reminds voters that they each get 10 votes for council and urges them to save one vote for their candidate.
- A residents’ group recommends vote three Greens, three NPA, three COPE, and make your own decision for the 10th spot. (For mayor, they say either NPA or COPE.)
Nice ideas, maybe, but none are apt to work. Sure, if the majority of voters were to follow to the letter and vote each candidate exactly as the residents’ group prescribed, they’d elect a “balanced” council. But that’s not going to happen. Though there’s a wide swath of voters against Vision out there, they are all over the map about who they’re for.
In the end, the vast majority of voters are going to do what they typically do in Vancouver’s dysfunctional at-large voting system: they’re going to vote slates. People will mostly select five to eight councillors from the party of their choice and then, perhaps, vote for one or two others. Given that there are too many candidates and too many parties to become fully informed, it’s not a bad strategy.
That is, unless you know about plumping. For individual voters, plumping is really the only way to boost your voter power. Plumping is when you cast just one or two votes instead of the full 10 allowed. The advantage is that you focus your voting power on the ones you really want to win. At the same time, you don’t dilute the power of that vote by voting for someone who could end up beating your preferred candidates.
Plumping can be a tricky thing to get your head around. After all, many people don’t want to “waste” their votes. But, let’s look at an example to see how you can actually undermine your own preferences. Let’s imagine that you are a COPE supporter and, as a strong feminist, your top choices are Gayle Gavin and Audrey Siegl sχɬemtəna:t. You also support the Greens' Adriane Carr, but not nearly as much. If you cast eight votes for the COPE slate and save one vote for Carr, the end result might be that Carr wins by one vote over Gavin or Siegl—and that vote would be yours.
If Vision and the NPA take advantage of plumping, so should you. When each party runs only eight candidates, they’re concentrating their vote. They’re not being nice guys leaving a couple of spots open to the parties that can’t muster multimilion-dollar campaign chests. They’re making sure voters don’t cast their five to eight slate votes across 10 candidates, diluting the totals for each one.
The fact is that if you use all 10 votes, generously handing them out across the political spectrum, you’re not going to end up with a “balanced” council. I think all the electoral groups know that. They’re just hoping enough odd votes land in their laps to get them elected—and maybe beat out the ones you really wanted to see win.
I say: don’t listen to them. Instead, Plump, with a capital P. It sounds good to say, and you’ll have a great time trying to explain what you’ve done.