I've seen a ton of confusion about how the voting will work for the Conservative leadership race, so I wanted to post something that will help explain it to anyone who's confused.
The procedure being used is a fairly typical ranked ballot. There are 14 candidates, and instead of picking one and hoping they win(as we do in most elections), we get to rank our top 10 preferences in order. Voters fill out their ballots in full in advance, and don't get a chance to change their minds as they see how the voting goes.
Voting is done in rounds. In the first round, your ballot counts for your #1 preference, and all the votes are tallied up. It's important to point out that any rank below #1 is totally irrelevant here - this isn't one where you're splitting up "preference points" or anything like that, it's a single vote going to the single candidate ranked #1 on your ballot. You can rank a single candidate or the full 10, and it won't change anything at this point.
After the first round is done, they figure out if anyone has a majority of votes. If someone does, they win. If nobody has a majority, they figure out which candidate has the fewest votes. That candidate loses, and is removed from the election for all future rounds. The people who voted for that candidate no longer have their #1 preference in the race, so they then vote for their #2 preference in future rounds. Again, this is a single vote going to a single candidate - it's not split up, and your #3-10 preferences still don't matter at this point. Only the single highest-ranked candidate on your ballot will get your vote.
This process repeats until one candidate gets a majority. Each round the lowest-ranked candidate loses and is removed from all future rounds, and that candidate's supporters are moved to their next-ranked choice. If for whatever reason they run out of choices on a given voter's ballot(maybe they only picked one guy, maybe they picked the full 10 but all 10 lost), that voter's ballot is ignored after this point, and their vote plays no further role in the election. It's not a "None of the above" ballot, it's just like you never showed up. As soon as a single candidate gets a majority, the election is over and they win.
One further wrinkle arises from the way the party counts votes. Votes are not the same nationwide - instead of each voter being weighted equally, each riding is weighted equally. This means that voters in heavily Conservative ridings will have less impact on the election than voters in ridings with few members. This does not change how you should vote - you don't get to pick where you vote, and whether your vote is worth more or less you still want the same candidate to win - but it's something to be aware of.
A few strategic considerations arise from this system.
- There is very little reason to care if a candidate is "viable" or not. If you really like a candidate, vote for them #1, and if they're unpopular then your vote will go to your #2 preference. Your vote is extremely unlikely to be "wasted", and strategic voting plays very little role(other than as noted below).
- Unless you genuinely have no preference between candidates after a certain point, or you feel like you can't support a leader who you wouldn't vote for, you should fill up your whole ballot. At some point it may feel like a choice between cholera and dysentery, but if you think one is better than the other, say so. If it comes down to a choice between those two, and you'd prefer one to the other, you'd do better saying so than leaving it blank and pretending that it can't happen.
- Because of the fact that you can only rank 10 candidates, you can't express a preference between your bottom 4 choices. If you have a preference that you feel is important between your bottom 4, you may wish to move one of them up to 10th place to express that preference. In practice, this means that you should look at which candidates have a real chance of winning, and make sure that all but one of them have a place on your ballot - the one you hate most should be off the ballot entirely, but the others are all better than that one, and so you should have a chance to choose between them if it comes down to that.
- If there's a non-viable candidate who you like second-best and you want to make them look better, but your true first preference is viable, you can safely rank the second-best candidate above the best candidate to artificially inflate their numbers. This is unlikely to do much of value for you or the candidate, but it's a choice you have. (I did this in the 2009 Ontario PC leadership - Hillier was grossly unelectable, but I liked the guy, so I ranked him #1 secure in the knowledge that he couldn't win)
Hopefully that helps anyone who's still confused about the system.
(Next: My Ballot)