Vote plumping, and why it is a very, very bad idea

One of the most confounding things I ran into upon moving to Nanaimo was the concept of vote plumping. Even with relatively broad experience and education of politics, this almost-uniquely British Columbian concept was something I had never heard before, anywhere.

The concept of only casting some of your available votes, while throwing away the rest, made no sense. Vote plumping’s original 18th-Century definition – where voters with multiple votes could cast all their votes for one candidate, something that actually was politically effective – was grossly distorted.

A definition of and argument for vote plumping in the Nanaimo context is: “Plumping allows voters to vote for fewer than the number of candidates to be elected. It permits voters to concentrate their voting power on those they support, rather than being constrained to also vote for those they oppose.”

In essence, you only like Candidate Jack and Candidate Jill, so you vote for them and leave your other six councillor votes empty.

There is only one major, glaring problem. Eight councillors will be elected, whether you vote for one, two, six or eight. By voting for only two, you are guaranteeing that you have zero say – zero – in the election of the other six councillors. Those other six seats will still be filled by somebody, but instead of it being somebody you may like less than Jack and Jill, those seats could be filled by somebody you adamantly oppose – like Candidate Zeke and Candidate Zach.

Let’s break it down. Omianan is a very small, fictional town with only seven voters. Strangely, it has four councillors. Eight candidates are running for those four positions. Voter plumpers Joe and Bob – and their two candidates – do poorly in Omianan’s election, and it is all down to basic math.


Candidate Jack Candidate Jill Candidate John Candidate June Candidate Joy Candidate Jeremiah Candidate Zach Candidate Zeke
Plump Voter Joe
Plump Voter Bob

Voter Mike


Voter Sue


Voter Ann


Voter Mitch


Voter Mark


Not only do the candidates of Plumper Joe and Plumper Bob lose, the two candidates that Joe and Bob like the least – Candidate Zeke and Candidate Zach – get elected, because other voters used their four votes to outvote the two votes of Joe and Bob. The exact opposite thing to what Joe and Bob wanted has come true, and now Joe and Bob are going to have to spend the next four years being embarrassed by the sleazy shenanigans and offensive outbursts of Zeke and Zach. Nice job, guys.

Think of it another way. There are two delicious, moist blackberry pies to be eaten, but you say “I only want to have a piece of one. I am morally opposed to that second pie because its crust doesn’t support some issue close to my heart.”

But your family members are more realistic. They recognize that, while the second pie may be not quite as delicious as the first, it’s still better than only one pie. And both pies are going to get eaten anyway. So your whole family gets to eat two pies, but you only get a slice of one.

Remember, both pies are going to get eaten. You just screwed yourself out of one pie.

And here is where we reach the essence of vote plumping: “If I vote for all eight councillor positions, I will be forced to vote for someone I do not support (or support less or have not researched).”

Except all those councillor seats will be filled, no matter what, and whether you vote for all eight councillor positions, only two, or zero.

So do the math, do your detailed, in-depth, well-considered research, and vote for the eight councillors who you think are the best, or alternatively, the least worst. Vote to fill eight seats, because eight seats will be filled, no matter what.

Personally, I will have no problem picking who I think are eight good candidates. This election is shaping up to have a record number of candidates. And fulfilling my democratic duty of choosing eight candidates means I can honestly say I participated in the entire democratic process. (Vote plumping does not apply with the mayoral race, because there is only one winner.)

That quote I used in the third paragraph above – it was written by Gord Fuller. Do you want to take electoral advice from Gord Fuller?

Don’t vote plump and tell your friends to not vote plump. Now eat your pie.