Voting Strategically With GIS

h/t CDF, Intro GIS

With the US presidential campaign still fresh in our memory and the Quebec provincial elections filling much of the media sphere, the Canadian Federal elections seem quite far away. Yet, just over a month ago, Canadians were asked to go to the polls and vote for their representatives. Because of the non-proportional electoral system that is in place in Canada, some electors decided to rethink their vote and follow the idea of the Project ABC (Anything But Conservative) and to go for strategic voting to reduce the Conservatives’ chances of being re-elected. Strategic voting can be described as the decision to vote for a second choice party in order to prevent an even less favorable party from winning. For strategic voting to be effective in a riding, this riding has to fulfill certain conditions: It must be a close two-way race; the other parties must have remote chances of winning; and the small number of votes for a third or fourth party must make a difference.

But once one has taken the decision to vote strategically, how can they know which party has the most chances to win in their ridings? It is at this stage that GIS comes into play, through the website Vote for Environment. By georeferencing postal codes on Google Map, this site helped voters to redirect their votes in the Canadian Federal elections. Therefore, one could type in his or her postal code, and a polygon would be traced on a Google map, showing the riding’s boundaries. As postal codes sometimes cross riding boundaries, the user could also click on the map to change riding, and the new riding’s attribute table would appear. The attribute table associated with each riding contains the different candidates as well as a graph showing the likely vote totals for each party, according to the latest polls. Finally, it indicated the website’s “pick”, according to the statistics. This pick represented the candidate for which one should vote for not to get the Conservative candidate to pass. As it is a non-partisan website, if the Conservatives did not have a chance to get the riding, it would just indicate to “vote with your heart”. Also, following the strategic voting conditions, the website did not suggest a candidate unless he or she “could have won in 2006 if at least one-third of the opposition party supporters had voted for the leading opposition party in that riding”.

Gerrymandering, a form of redistribution that deliberately rearranges the boundaries of districts to influence the outcome of elections, often comes to our mind when we think of the implication of GIS in the political sphere. Even though the strategic voting method suggested by Vote for Environment has not been able to completely achieve its objective of preventing another Conservative government in Canada, it has shown an interesting way of using accessible GIS information to enhance community mobilization.

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