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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.
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.
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.
Now meet 23-year-old Anlin Wang. He prefers Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Her platform stands for more of the direction I would like to see U.S. politics go in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Pennsylvania, Anlin Wang also read about the app and joined the group, which has nearly 10,000 active users.
I just made a post there. And said, "I live in PA. Willing to trade my vote.
Quickly realized that we'd be good trading partners.
Khan agreed to vote for Jill Stein in New Jersey, and Wang, for Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania. Both see this as a win.
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.
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.
People were telling us that they were gonna stay home because their vote didn't matter. That makes no sense.
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.
Reyes and Stubbs launched a vote trading website called "TrumpTraders' which has over 20,000 users.
You tell us who you are voting for, tell us where you live and you give us your email address.
They then find you a partner to swap votes with.
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
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.
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.
It sounds like something that should be illegal.
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.
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?
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?
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.
Watch the Full Episode
Mori Rothman has produced stories on a variety of subjects ranging from women’s rights in Saudi Arabia to rural depopulation in Kansas. Mori previously worked as a producer and writer at ABC News and as a production assistant on the CNN show Erin Burnett Outfront.
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