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Benjamin Shinewald lives in Toronto.

We live in the age of the margin of error.

Just this week, it was all over in Pennsylvania’s special congressional election when a Democrat’s 627-vote lead became insurmountable. Once again, voters took important decisions, but by a razor-thin majority.

It keeps happening. In 2016 in the United Kingdom, for instance, the spread between those who wanted to remain in Europe and those who wanted to leave was less than 4 per cent. Tiny numbers of voters drove Britain out of Europe.

But just a few months later, the Brexit outcome seemed like a landslide when Hillary Clinton lost handfuls of voters scattered across a few swing states in the United States. Through the Electoral College, these voters delivered the White House to Donald Trump, despite Clinton earning 2.1 per cent more votes.

Other examples abound. A 2015 dead heat between two candidates for the Prince Edward Island provincial legislature was resolved by a judge flipping a coin. Last year in Alabama, Roy Moore, who is accused of sexual misconduct, lost by a hair’s breadth in an election for the U.S. Senate. And just this weekend, Doug Ford lost the popular vote, but won Ontario’s Conservative leadership with fewer than 51 per cent of the adjusted electoral points.

But while these squeakers may be exciting, they also present real challenges to our democratic system.

For one thing, losers struggle with accepting narrow defeats. To some extent, this is understandable. Our voting process may be sacrosanct, but it is not perfect. When the margin of victory overlaps with the margin of error, losers wonder if some infuriating clerical mistake cost them their rightful victory.

Increasingly, those who lose by a nose refuse to accept the results. Three months later, Mr. Moore still has not conceded, nor has the Republican contesting Tuesday’s election in Pennsylvania. Back home, Mr. Ford’s rival, Christine Elliott, delayed accepting her loss for a day. And while such responses may usually be the pathetic cries of sore losers, they can also be the earnest pleas of candidates who may really have deserved victory. It’s just impossible to tell one from the other.

But voters are the real losers. Each time candidates refuse to concede victory, voters question the legitimacy and value of their votes, and democratic institutions crumble just a little bit.

When candidates appeal election outcomes to the courts, it generally gets worse. If voters think election losers are just trying to win by other means or, worse, if they think judges are usurping their electoral voice, then democracy suffers. Many believe that Al Gore lost the 2000 U.S. presidential election to George W. Bush because of a single vote – one cast in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision ending the Florida recount.

Layer on the nefarious influences undermining civil society, from foreign agents trying to put their thumbs on our electoral scales to social media dispatching voters into like-minded, airtight silos, and you have a real threat to our democracy.

It is no wonder, then, that we are increasingly split right down the middle. Election results are themselves becoming just another wedge issue.

So, what should we do about it?

First, we must bolster the integrity of our democratic processes, investing heavily in ensuring that every single vote counts, period. Democracy simply cannot survive if voting itself becomes undermined.

Second, we should reward candidates who lose with grace. For instance, before casting their ballots, voters could ask themselves what kind of losers the candidates would be – dignified or indignant – and vote accordingly.

Third, we should recognize that certain questions are just too important for 50 per cent plus one. Canada’s Clarity Act, which requires a clear majority on a clear question, applies to the possibility of Quebec’s secession, but would have yielded a more broadly accepted result had it been applied to the Brexit case. This sort of supermajority approach merits consideration for such historic decisions.

In the end, there is no perfect solution. Candidates and voters may sometimes feel legitimately aggrieved by our imperfect system. But that system is the best we’ve got, and we must pull out all the stops in protecting it from the margin of error.

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