TOPICS > Politics > Vote 2016

These apps help people trade votes to boost Clinton in swing states

November 5, 2016 at 4:00 PM EDT
In solidly red or blue states, many voters feel like their votes count less than those cast in swing states. But some voters have found another method to increase their impact: trading their vote with a swing state voter who wants to cast a ballot for a third-party candidate. NewsHour Special Correspondent Karla Murthy reports.

By Mori Rothman and Karla Murthy

KARLA MURTHY: 25-year-old Sadiq Khan is a Hillary Clinton supporter, but he doesn’t think his vote matters much, because he lives in New Jersey, a state that’s voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections… and is expected to do so again on Tuesday.

SADIQ KHAN: Growing up in school, you learn about how it’s a civic duty to show up at the polls and have your voice heard. But in my young voting history, I’ve been involved in two president elections now. And it almost always seems like in New Jersey, it’s always solid blue. And no matter even if I voted or not, you know, my vote, my voice really doesn’t count.

KARLA MURTHY: Now meet 23-year-old Anlin Wang. He prefers Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

ANLIN WANG: Her platform stands for more of the direction I would like to see U.S. politics go in.

KARLA MURTHY: Any third party whose candidate gets five percent of the national popular vote qualifies for federal funding. But Wang lives in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, and he worries a vote for Stein instead of Clinton could help Donald Trump win his state.

ANLIN WANG: Because I live in PA rather than one of those safe states, right, like, there is an exponentially greater chance that my vote could be the one that makes that difference.

KARLA MURTHY: Anlin Wang and Sadiq Khan had never met before, but they are trying to solve each other’s dilemmas by using a strategy called vote swapping.

Here’s how it works. On one side, you have a voter in a closely fought battleground state like Pennsylvania who supports a third party candidate — in this case Green Party candidate Jill Stein. On the other side, you have a voter in a “safe” state… like New Jersey who supports Hillary Clinton. They then persuade each other to vote for their preferred candidate… essentially swapping their votes.

A handful of vote swapping websites, apps, and Facebook groups have sprung up this election year connecting voters from all over the country.

Sadiq Khan read about a vote trading app called #NeverTrump. He downloaded it onto his phone and joined a message group.

SADIQ KHAN: And you would post on the forum and identify who you were gonna vote for, where you’re from and if you were willing to trade.

KARLA MURTHY: In Pennsylvania, Anlin Wang also read about the app and joined the group, which has nearly 10,000 active users.

ANLIN WANG: I just made a post there. And said, “I live in PA. Willing to trade my vote.

SADIQ KHAN: Quickly realized that we’d be good trading partners.

KARLA MURTHY: Khan agreed to vote for Jill Stein in New Jersey, and Wang, for Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania. Both see this as a win.

SADIQ KHAN: Anlin in Pennsylvania is able to make sure that, you know, his vote for Jill Stein is being cast. And I was using this process to almost amplify my voice and make it heard in a way that actually matters.

KARLA MURTHY: Two advocates of vote swapping are John Stubbs and Ricardo Reyes, both republicans who worked in the George W Bush administration. They wrote a New York Times op-ed in September appealing to fellow republicans in safe states to swap their votes with people in battleground states.

RICARDO REYES: People were telling us that they were gonna stay home because their vote didn’t matter. That makes no sense.

JOHN STUBBS: If you live in California, your vote is gonna count in a state that does not have as much influence as Ohio or Florida or Pennsylvania. We need to figure out a system that allows everyone to participate fully.

KARLA MURTHY: Reyes and Stubbs launched a vote trading website called “TrumpTraders’ which has over 20,000 users.

JOHN STUBBS: You tell us who you are voting for, tell us where you live and you give us your email address.

KARLA MURTHY: They then find you a partner to swap votes with.

JOHN STUBBS: There’s no contract. It’s just the honor code, and it’s more than just the honor code. It’s me talking to you. It’s me talking to my friends in Florida and Ohio

KARLA MURTHY: Their website also offers a two for one special. For example, if you want to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson and you live in Ohio, they’ll find you two Clinton voters in a safe state like California to switch with you.

RICARDO REYES: Hopefully one day there will be more options for voters. But at the end of the day anything that isn’t a vote for Trump or a vote for Hillary is a protest vote. And what he or she wants is representation. Maximum representation for this third party or for those points of views or for the values of that third party. And so this mechanism actually is very good for that.

KARLA MURTHY: It sounds like something that should be illegal.

JOHN STUBBS: It’s not.

KARLA MURTHY: In fact, in 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that vote swapping websites are protected free speech under the first amendment because nothing of monetary value is being exchanged.

The case goes back to the 2000 presidential election, when vote trading websites sought to get battleground state supporters of then-Green Party nominee Ralph Nader to swap their votes with Al Gore supporters in safe states.

KARLA MURTHY: But you’re encouraging voters, encouraging people to trade votes from people who live across the country from each other. I mean, is that really the way our democracy is supposed to work?

JOHN STUBBS: Absolutely. In a national election where the outcome affects us all exactly the same? This is a national election. Just because we have an electoral college system that was designed when we were still sending mail by pony doesn’t mean that we can’t upgrade our own expression of preference. We have the technology that allows people to communicate by pushing a button on something they carry around in their pocket. Why wouldn’t we be taking advantage of that?

KARLA MURTHY: Last weekend, Sadiq Khan and Anlin Wang decided to meet in person, and mail their absentee ballots together.

But we won’t know what difference, if any, these vote swappers will have until Election Day.