For many voters in the election for mayor, the temptation to vote strategically is overwhelming. They want nothing more from this contest than to get rid of the Fords. If that means voting for a candidate they might not otherwise support, or even a candidate they actively dislike, so be it.
You hear talk about this sort of calculation everywhere you go these days, from locker rooms to dog parks to dinner-party tables. If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, a great number of people plan to vote for John Tory simply because he seems to have the best chance of beating Doug Ford. The big turnout in advance polls may be a sign of an anything-but-Ford stampede, accelerated by recent polls that seemed to show Mr. Ford within striking distance of Mr. Tory.
The obvious loser from this dynamic is Olivia Chow, who is seeing many natural supporters abandon her because they feel a vote for her would be wasted. She knows it, and in the final days of the campaign, she is doing everything she can to counter the block-Ford, vote-Tory movement.
Polls, she argues, are often wrong, so stampeding to an opinion-poll front-runner may not make sense. Besides, she told the editorial board of The Globe and Mail last week, "I don't think Doug Ford would win. He's plateaued out."
That is the practical argument. She makes a case of principle, too. She reminds "progressive" voters that Mr. Tory is a conservative like the Fords, so voting for him would simply replace one Tory with another (a bit rich coming from someone who objected when Mr. Tory pigeonholed her as the "NDP candidate"). To drive home the point, she scheduled a press conference for Tuesday at Queen's Park, where Mr. Tory once led the Progressive Conservatives, "to underline that the real John Tory is a conservative."
She argues it is better to vote out of hope instead of fear. If the aim is to end the Ford era, "Why can't we get rid of Ford and also vote for someone who would actually create a better city? I'm the person, I'm the mayor, that could do both."
The argument is a bit self-serving. You can bet Ms. Chow would not be complaining if she were leading in the polls and people were rushing to back her instead of Mr. Tory as the most promising anti-Ford candidate. If some voters are appalled at the prospect that a Ford would win again, you can hardly blame them. It does not mean they have abandoned themselves to unreasoning fear. It just means they can't stand the thought of four more years of the Fords.
Still, strategic voting has its perils. One vote cannot change the course of an election. When voters assume they are joining a stop-Ford movement, they are betting on the unpredictable behaviour of others. They are assuming that, through some kind of collective mind meld, fellow voters will come to a similar decision. What if they don't?
Then there is the aftermath to consider. If a candidate gets elected because of who he isn't instead of who he is, if a large number of the people who voted for him did so only by holding their noses as they filled out their ballots, doesn't it dilute his mandate?
Our voting system is based on the idea that people will choose the candidate that, for whatever reason, they like best. It falls apart when they start basing their vote on a guess about what others may do.
The desire to bring the curtain down on the Ford follies is understandable. But the best voting strategy is the most basic one: Choose the candidate you think would make the best mayor.