Hacking democracy, Canadian style

A broad progressive (neo-progressive?) movement is emerging on the web, rallying Canadian netizens to defeat the Harper Conservatives in the October 14th federal election.  Dozens of sites and groups have suddenly emerged in the blogosphere and on Facebook with a single unified goal – to defeat the Harper government.

I’m helping with one of these campaigns, AnyoneButHarper.ca, which is a viral media and strategic voting campaign launched from a Facebook group in less than two weeks.  The idea is to create, distribute and share viral media that will drive anti-Harper forces to take action in the form of strategic voting.  The campaign includes videos produced by community members that are hosted on Vimeo and YouTube and a strategic voting widget hosted at Widgetbox.

The strategic voting widget is a democracy hack response to the current situation that progressive Canadians face. Today, the Conservative party can achieve a majority government and push ahead a neo-conservative agenda with only 38% of the popular vote. This is due to the first-past-the-post electoral system and a splintered centre-left  composed of four parties lined up against a united right wing Conservative party. Other approaches to hack this situation include sites and groups that facilitate strategic vote swapping between progressives living in different ridings supporting different centre-left parties.

Meanwhile our friends at Fair Vote Canada are creating a home for Ophan Voters – voters whose votes do not help elect anyone in a first-past-the-post system. They hope to raise awareness of the need for electoral reform, but they are challenged in building the momentum they need when the beneficiaries of the current system control the path to reform. It appears that fundamental reform is not gaining sufficient traction, certainly not in the short term.

Why now?  I think this activity can be seen as the result of some underlying forces:

  1. The social web and the technologies of so-called Web 2.0
  2. The experience of MoveOn.org and the Obama campaign in the U.S. election
  3. A frustrated and digitally enabled electorate, looking for change but lacking a galvanizing leader (like an Obama) to rally behind

Can regular Canadians, using the tools of the web, work around the limitations of first-past-the-post electoral system to snatch a progressive outcome from a system otherwise gamed in the favour of the incumbent Conservative party?

This emerging movement is going to try. It remains to be seen what it can do in the short three weeks remaining in this electoral cycle.