Franz Hartmann is the executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. In a series of posts leading up to the municipal election this fall, he’ll be discussing environmental priorities for the city and assessing the leading candidates’ environmental policies.
Three-way elections like Toronto’s mayoral race always lead to the same question: should a person vote strategically for another candidate if their number one choice appears unlikely to win? Political pundits love this question because it allows them to recycle decades-old arguments either for or against strategic voting. The fact is it’s extremely difficult to determine—until after the election—whether strategic voting will help or hurt in achieving a particular outcome. In the end, people who care about strategic voting will have to decide what to do based on what their gut tells them, not the evidence.
For those who care about building a green Toronto, here is a quick reality check about strategic voting: stop agonizing about which mayoral candidate to vote for. Instead, put your energy into getting people who otherwise aren’t planning on voting to vote, and to vote for the environment. Our collective focus should be on electing a majority of city councillors who are committed to building on the last ten years of environmental progress. (Remember, the mayor only has one vote.)
In 2006, only 39.3% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Too often, advocates focus on getting people who are already planning to vote to adopt their priorities. The challenge with this approach is that someone who is going to vote likely already has strong opinions and is less open to considering new points of view.
The big opportunity lies with the 60% who didn’t vote last time. If even a small portion of this group can be convinced to vote, and to vote for a candidate who is committed to the environment, we have a much better chance of building a green city than we do by agonizing over strategic voting.
With this in mind, the first step is to increase voter turnout. The best way to do that is to focus on your friends, family, neighbours, and co-workers that have shown no interest in voting. Then, when you’ve got them thinking about voting, talk to them about voting for the environment.
With this in mind, here are five tips about what you can personally do to increase voter turnout:
- Talk, talk, talk to people who aren’t engaged about the election (and, where appropriate, the environment). It’s not often that talking actually leads to something, but this time it will. People don’t vote because they have other priorities, haven’t thought about it, or because they don’t think their vote counts. But it’s difficult to be apathetic about (or ignore) something when everyone around you is talking about it. This is a lesson advertisers learned long ago: when they create buzz for a product, people start paying attention. You need to help create this buzz.
- Think outside the green box. While the environment may be the number one issue for you (it is for me), others may have different priorities. A great place to go for non-partisan information on a host of issues (eg. city finances, arts, housing, public transit, the economy, the environment) is OneToronto. (Once they are there, they can look at our report card, which scores candidates’ stances on six priority issues.
- Throw an election party. We have Grey Cup parties, Superbowl parties, and World Series parties. Elections are simply another sort of sport, albeit one that changes our lives. Invite people over or head to a local bar to watch the results—but make it clear people should vote first.
- Organize a “let’s vote” campaign at your place of work. Send a memo around reminding people to vote and that under Ontario law, every employer must ensure eligible voters have three consecutive hours available to vote. If this requires the employee to be away from the office during their regular shift, the employer must pay for the time spent voting. If the workplace is big enough, set up a competition amongst divisions to see who can get the biggest voter turnout. Try to get your employer to give a prize (eg. pizza lunch, donation to favourite charity) as a way of motivating people to vote.
- Help a candidate who you think deserves your support. Every serious candidate will be grateful to anyone who volunteers on election day to help get out the vote: call the candidate’s office and volunteer. Whether you are on the phone, knocking on doors, or making coffee for your fellow volunteers, you will be playing an important role.
Finally, for those of you who want to vote for the environment and are still agonizing about whether to vote “strategically,” here is my two cents’ worth: chill, and follow your gut. In the meantime, go have some fun and talk about the election to people who aren’t your usual suspects.
Get more municipal election coverage from Torontoist here.