Green Party Vote Result Mirrors Partisan Ballot Comments

In an earlier post, I reported that the Green Party of Canada had taken the unusual measure of adding partisan commentary directly on its ballots for this year’s pre-convention voting.

The pre-convention vote has now been tallied, and the results closely match the partisan ballot comments. How should this be interpreted?

The vote results

The images below show the convention proposals, ranked by the number of votes they received. (The purpose of the pre-convention vote was to prioritize proposals for consideration at the convention. The first fifteen proposals in each of two categories will be considered by the convention attendees, in the order shown. Proposals below that cutoff are essentially vetoed, since they will not be considered.)

The colour-coded column indicates whether the partisan ballot comments for that proposal were primarily positive, negative, or mixed.

Pre-convention vote results for policy proposals
Pre-convention vote results for constitutional proposals and directives

With only a few exceptions, the proposals which carried positive partisan comments received more votes than those which carried mixed comments, which in turn received more votes than the proposals which carried negative partisan comments.

How should these results be interpreted?

There are two possible interpretations of these results:

  1. The partisan comments have distorted the vote.
  2. No members were swayed by any of the partisan comments; the vote results matched the partisan comments by sheer coincidence.

The second scenario seems very unlikely. However, as much as common sense might suggest the vote was distorted, from a perspective of statistical evidence, the results shown above are neither a proof nor a disproof, only a correlation.

Why this ambiguity is a problem

Usually, we say that strong evidence comes from controlled and repeatable experiments. But a vote, by its very nature, is a one-time event that involves a set group of participants. There is no way to repeat a vote, nor any (ethical) way to create a “control group”.

This makes it impossible to gather the sort of hard evidence that might conclusively settle the question of whether a vote was distorted or clean. All we have is correlations and circumstantial evidence.

At the same time, it is easy to interpret that circumstantial evidence as proof of a distorted vote.

In other words, the Green Party has created a situation where it is easy for a voting member to believe that the process is tainted, and impossible to prove that it is not. That is a toxic mix.

(Picture a member who is passionate about their proposal and has invested time and energy in craft and promoting it. Imagine their proposal receives a negative comment, especially one which they feel is unfair. Imagine that it also receives a negative vote that excludes it from consideration at the convention.

Will this person be satisfied with the fairness of the system, as they perceive it? Or will tension arise?)

The results of the convention vote, and any context surrounding that vote, will provide more insight. I will report on this situation again after the party’s convention in September.

(Edited 2018 August 30: improved the wording of the second scenario thanks to a comment from Arleigh Luckett. The original wording used the word “ignored”, which suggested that members either did not read the comments, or were influenced, ignoring the possibility that the comments were read and disregarded.)


6 thoughts on “Green Party Vote Result Mirrors Partisan Ballot Comments

  1. The second scenario is not very unlikely, as long as you consider that the people making those comments are an accurate sample and representation of the views of the voting membership. Being in touch with, in sympathy with, or a good proxy for membership views as a whole is a perfectly logical explanation for the overlap.

    I would actually be far more surprised if there were an inverse correlation, as it would indicate that the views of the more involved volunteers (including Cabinet) who took part in writing & reviewing the comments were deeply out of sync with the views of the whole voting membership. THAT would be a big red flag.


  2. Thanks Erïch, but the ballot comments were not presented as being a sampling of membership views. That would be like printing the most recent poll results on an election ballot–something I think most people would see as both improper and of little value.

    Rather, the commentary was presented as being technical advice to help members understand the proposals. Technical advice of that sort is not determined by the opinions of members, but rather, by the technical expertise of the comment authors. For example, “this proposal contradicts our existing policy on XYZ” or “this proposal encroaches on provincial jurisdiction” are observations which remain true regardless of whether members favour the proposal in question.

    Therefore, going under the assumption that the ballot comments are technical advice, the prevailing views of members cannot be used as an explanation for why the vote results matched the ballot commentary.

    Hypothetically though, let us assume that the ballot comments *were* intended as a reflection of member views, rather than as technical advice. If that were the case, whose viewpoint would the ballot comments represent? If the ballot comments were an amplification of the majority viewpoint, that would be strange, since the Green Party opposes the first-past-the-post voting system for exactly that reason. If the ballot comments were an amplification of a minority view, why would that minority view have been privileged above both the majority view and other minority views?

    The only way to make a summary of member views neutral and democratic is, of course, to include all viewpoints in that summary. At that point you would have something very different from what appeared on the pre-convention ballots, which did not encompass multiple viewpoints.

    It is clear from reading the text of the ballot comments that they are neither neutral technical advice, nor a democratic summary of member views. They include unambiguously partisan voting instructions. That is why I suggest that the common-sense interpretation of the voting results is that a distortion occurred.


  3. You have contradicted yourself. First you say “going under the assumption that the ballot comments are technical advice, the prevailing views of members cannot be used as an explanation for why the vote results matched the ballot commentary.”
    Then you say “It is clear from reading the text of the ballot comments that they are neither neutral technical advice”
    Therefore, your assumption cannot be made.
    In fact, the “partisan” (your term, misused in my view) comments fall into two categories (with some overlap): those which state how a new policy would interact with, contradict, expand, or overlap an existing policy, and those which more directly praise or criticize a policy for being helpful or harmful.
    The former could be seen as “technical”, and insofar as they are accurate and useful advice, it is not at all surprising if they would would influence a rational reader. For example, upon reading a reasonable-sounding proposal, but then finding out it would reverse a long-standing party stance that also seems reasonable, one would probably default toward keeping the longstanding policy unless the new reversal was more compelling (which presumably they weren’t). Or any other truly “technical” comment which indicates a problem with adopting the policy will likewise discourage support for it. *And so it should* – that’s the point.
    On the other side, comments which are more subjective in nature (the policy would be a good addition, or the policy is unlikely to be effective) are partly based on policy expertise and partly based on general accordance with Green Party values. In this case, if the values of Cabinet and the members line up, it’s not a matter of coincidence but rather indicates that Cabinet and the membership are on the same page as each other.
    Hence, I reject your interpretation #2 of “sheer coincidence”.


  4. I should earlier have noted that I also reject the wording and implication of your first interpretation:
    “The partisan comments have distorted the vote.”
    Your use of the word “distorted” is completely inappropriate. That term implies that there was some natural or fair outcome of the vote, and the comments have shifted it to an unnatural or unfair result.
    I would hope the comments DID influence the vote – that is their entire purpose. Why would you add a comment supporting or questioning the adoption of a policy if you didn’t think anyone would credit it? But influecing a vote is not the same as “distorting” it. Would you also say that when candidates knock on doors, or put up signs, or advertise to voters, that they are “distorting” the vote? Because we know it influences the result.
    If a comment dissuades some members from voting for a flawed motion, then the comment is a success, not a “distortion”. Members are not voting in a void: they combine information about the motion from the mover, and comments from the party, and their own prior knowledge or further research. None of those factors “distorts” the vote, they inform it. An informed vote, not a vote in ignorance, should be the goal, should it not? And if the result indicates that members voted in accordance with the best available information (including expert commentary from party staff, volunteers, and Cabinet), is that not the most desirable result?


  5. There is no contradiction, the quotes are talking about two different things.

    The first quote (which ideally should be read in context with the preceding two paragraphs) is a refutation of one of your arguments. You suggested that the vote results matched the comments because the comment-writers were “in tune” with member opinions. But the comments were not presented as being a summary of member opinions, they were presented as being technical advice. They can’t be both simultaneously.

    The second quote is my own observation that, despite being presented as technical advice, the comments in fact included partisan instructions to vote for or against certain proposals.

    Hope this explains — my wording certainly could’ve been better in the first quote, sorry if it was unclear.


  6. Of course the vote was distorted. One set of opinions was given a privileged space on the ballot, while other opinions were not. To pretend that this had no effect on the voting decisions of members is ridiculous.

    Would you have accepted the results of a Canada-wide referendum on voting reform, if the referendum ballot had included a comment from the Liberal party suggesting that voters should reject the proposal? Or would you rightly recognize this as completely anti-democratic?


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