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Election Strategy

I used to think voting was wrong.

Quick aside to those who stalwarts of democracy who gasp in horror at the notion of not doing your duty of putting a ballot in a box: don’t worry, this text is gonna end up arguing for voting, not against it.

Here’s what I was thinking back then: if my candidate wins and they do something evil, that’s my fault because I voted for them. But if my candidate’s opponent wins and they do something bad, that’s also my fault because I participated in, and thereby signed off on, the process that put them on the throne.

If I say “sure, let’s flip for it”, I can’t complain when it ends up tails and I don’t get what I want. If I say “sure, let’s duel at noon, I approve of that way of resolving things”, it’s kind of on me if I then get shot and die. By participating in electoral democracy, I would make myself responsible for what the elected representatives did. That was my thinking at the time.

I’ve changed my mind on this. I’m still definitively not saying that voting should be the main focus of our political engagement.

But I’ve freed myself from thinking “if I vote, the elected representatives’ actions and choices are my fault”. Instead, I see it as harm reduction. I don’t wanna vote for the guy who’s gonna do bad things but if I don’t, the guy who’s gonna do those same bad things plus a couple of other bad things on top is gonna win.

It’s less that I am saying “yes, good idea, dueling to the death to determine this issue is a reasonable and binding way of settling disputes” and more that I’m saying “holy shit! They’re shooting at us, take cover!”

Here in Sweden, they aren’t counting up blank and protest votes or abstains and going “hmm, a lot of blank votes, we’d better resign”. They only count the votes for registered candidates and then select the candidate with the most votes. There’s no way to “un”-vote.

In America, it’s especially bad because they have a first-past-the-post system. There’s no way for three candidates to be viable (which means that there’s no way for three parties to be viable, which means that primaries are deathly important). Yes, America desperately needs election reform.

In France, there is run-off voting. You get to both have the cake of voting for who’s gonna be the best, and then eat the cake of even if your favorite lost, you can keep the most evil out of power. I’m so jealous of this and I urge everyone to please help keep the fachos out!

Sweden has proportional representation, so the elected representatives can be a mix of different parties, but there is a problem. The threshold percent rule (four percent in Sweden, other countries have different numbers). This is needed—it’s so that all parliamentarians will have enough to actually do meaningful work, which in Sweden comes down to a little over a dozen seats—but it sucks because of your party gets less than four percent, you wasted your vote. We would need a runoff or instant runoff, too: vote for a couple of parties and if your fave gets less than four percent, you get your second choice.

We’re also seeing the downside to proportional rep here, since that means that we’re letting some amount of monsters inside the parliament, and I have a hard time making peace with that.

Sometimes it’s pretty frustrating thinking about election systems since not only are fair elections impossible, even if we did have fair elections, people would still vote for some pretty bad policies. But let’s make the best of the world as it is (without giving up on saving it), and please vote.

France 2022

One is worse than the other. And I’m not excusing Darmanin and his domestic racism and his support for the hafrada policies. But we can’t swap out RN lite for the actual RN.

So what I mean is that I used to think “I don’t want to participate and become responsible for a bad representative”. I was opposed to voting for the lesser evil. But now I don’t feel that way anymore. I no longer see voting as expressing approval or support of the candidate. Voting sucks and the government is not legimitate but this is harm reduction. We can have RN lite (in the form of REM) or we can have the actual RN which would be (slightly) worse. I don’t want worse!

If this was instant or automatic runoff (like IRV or Star), if you would’ve ranked RN below REM (even slightly), you’d have automatically voted for REM by now. I understand and sympathize that it feels way worse to actually do it in person.

We have nothing to gain from going with the worse option.

It’s like when Sanders lost the American primary and some of his democrat supporters were like “If we have Trump instead—it’s OK that he’s a li’l bit worse, the people will finally realize how bad right wing politics is and rise up” but what happened? The right wing got even more right wing and wack, while the so-called left wing primaried their most conservative and centrist candidate, Joe Biden.

It’s an illusion that we can accept that the most evil is a li’l bit worse than the second-most evil, that the difference is OK. Accepting to get a more evil ruler in order to spite the second-most evil ruler is only hurting ourselves.

I wanna change the perception of voting from being “I approve and accept of this candidate” to “OK, this is tactics and strategy and how-can-we-keep-the-world-from-getting-worse”. Coming from ancom, I was steeped in “boycott the vote”, “direct action”, “strikes and barricades” and I’m not asking for a complete 180˚ turn from that. Instead, I’m saying “the vote is ridiculous, the state is a mess, but the way they are hurting us is real so please try to help push the collective steering this old boat at least a little bit closer to the right direction”.

“It’s too late”—that’s my point exactly! It’s too late this cycle to put an actual good candidate in power (so it seems like we still need to build broader support for our ideas, and also work with political action outside of the parliamentary structures, such as strikes). It’s too late and everything related to putting a good candidate is meaningless. It’s void, it’s moot. We can try to keep the worst candidate out, for whatever that’s worth (and I’m begging you to please, please, please do that), but that’s not the be-all, end-all of our political engagement.