"No one should feel obliged to vote against the party they actually support."

Tomorrow I’ll be ‘swapping’ my vote and betraying my party membership

By Josiah Mortimer

This Thursday, I will be doing what no party member wants or should have to do: I'll be voting for a different party.

I've been a member of the Green Party since 2011. As a writer I've long stood up for the Greens, have done my fair share of campaigning, and was one of three then-students who put 'social justice' into the official Core Values of the party for the first time.

And this weekend I headed to Bristol West to help elect the UK's second ever Green MP in Molly Scott Cato. But it's depressing not to be able to campaign for the party in my own South East London seat.

I live in a marginal Labour/Lib Dem constituency. And because of that, for the first time, I'll be voting Labour in a general election. But I'll also be 'swapping' my vote –a notion that seemed to emerge in the 2015 election and has picked up pace since.

It's a slightly bizarre phenomenon that stems from a totally bust, out-dated and messed-up voting system – one where in many seats, you feel like you can't back your own party.

You could be a Labour voter in a Lib Dem/Tory marginal, or a UKIP voter in a Tory/Labour swing seat, but the effect is the same: vote for your party, and you risk the 'other side' getting in. This is the polarisation that we're forced into by that one 'X'.

So I'll vote Labour, and a Labour-supporting friend in ultra-safe Surrey will now be voting Green.

I haven't done this before, and I feel slightly uncomfortable about it. It feels grubby. Why should I feel forced to vote for a party I don't fully support? Most people in developed democracies don't have to – they rank their candidates by preference, and if their first choice doesn't have enough support, their second or third choice is counted instead.

There are no clear figures for how many people will be doing the same as me – but I've heard that tens of thousands are using vote swapping sites like swapmyvote.uk to 'tactically' improve their voting power. And some 20% of voters say they'll be 'holding their nose' on June 8th and voting for a second- or even third-choice party to keep out someone else. It's double the proportion as last time. 

Going off the previous election's turnout, that's six million people squirming within a very cramped ballot box.

One friend told me he'd already voted tactically, by post. The decision made him 'feel sick'. In my case, swapping my vote (it still seems wrong to say) means the same net number of Green votes overall – they're just more usefully distributed for the left. But there's still something so crude, uncertain and dirty about it.

The main reason I've spent literally hours deciding to vote against my own party is this: the Labour MP supports voting reform – something I think should be rewarded at the ballot box.

But no one should feel obliged to vote against the party they actually support. A decent voting system would mean I wouldn't have to. Nor would most of the other six million in the same ballot boat.

'Vote swapping' and 'holding your nose' are no way to do democracy. I hope Thursday is the last time myself and millions others have to put up with it.

Josiah Mortimer is a Contributing Editor for Left Foot Forward and works for the Electoral Reform Society

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