Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Who gets to decide who the “legitimate” candidates are?

There is a lot of talk online and in the media about the “front-runners” in the election. Various individuals and media are pushing for a “front-runners-only” mayoral debate.

What the gosh-darned heck (to be honest, the words I’m actually thinking are much more graphic and vile) gives anyone other than the voters at the voting booth the right to narrow the choices of the voting public?

If a candidate is on the ballot, they should be able to be a full part of every candidate forum (applicable to the office they are running for) and have fair opportunity for equal coverage in the public media. Anything less is a taking away of access from the voters and is a violation of democratic principles.

Yes, it can make things tedious and messy, but democracy is worth every single bit of effort it demands.

Yes, it is often painful to have to sit through the speeches of some of the more “interesting” candidates, but the alternative in our present setup is to shut out the diverse voices in our society from full meaningful participation. That is not democratic.

The problem is not too many candidates, or “fringe” candidates. The problem is our archaic electoral system.

Workable alternatives

Our current electoral system doesn’t provide a fair way to narrow down the selection from a field of many candidates. The way our ballots are set up (“first past the post”) really only works well if you have no more than 2 choices. The solution to the problem comes in getting rid of our current system and putting in place something that actually allows for more refined selection processes.

Some good possibilities include things like alternative balloting systems, or multiple run-offs in the lead-up to the final vote, or something like the primaries held in the U.S.

So, rather than damaging what little semblance of democracy we have in this society by cutting out candidates from full participation in the public dialogue, let’s all step up our efforts to transform the system to allow for a more refined process than the archaic single “X” on a ballot.

Polls are not an expression of democratic will

The main thing used to excuse the exclusion of candidates are the polls that have been made public. Election-time polls typically show strong leads for just a few of the candidates on a given ballot. This is then used to justify excluding the non-leaders from further attention (thereby ensuring they are eliminated from having a chance of winning).

Published polls end up pushing public opinion in favour of those already in the lead. That’s the main reason I’m opposed to polls being made public.

Some try to present the poll measurements as something we can use in place of actual votes (such as in run-offs). That is not legitimate. The only way you could have a poll that truly represented the will of all eligible voters would be to poll every eligible voter. Otherwise, you’ve always got a margin of error greater than zero.

Some argue that our voting would also not be considered legitimate on those terms because so many eligible voters don’t vote. That argument is wrong. Those who choose to not vote have a fair opportunity to participate and choose not to. They are saying “this is not important enough to me to expend any effort on, so I’ll just accept what everyone else decides.” That is still an expression of their opinion, so fulfils (although quite poorly) the requirement that their voice have an opportunity to be expressed within the democratic system.

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