By Daniella Emanuel
Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein supporters in New York are making verbal pacts to swap votes with swing state voters.
Some voters in New York are finding people who live in swing states who are either undecided or Green Party, and asking them to vote for Clinton there, promising them that they will vote for Stein in New York in exchange. Their goals are to increase the chance of federal funding for the Green Party and aid Clinton in winning the swing state. This is called vote trading, or vote swapping.
“It’s a win win to vote trade because we can both kind of have our cake and eat it too,” said 29-year-old Jabari Brisport, a Brooklyn Jill Stein supporter who traveled to Pennsylvania earlier this month in an effort to find people to trade votes with five of his willing friends in New York and California.
Brisport was unsuccessful in his mission to find vote traders in Pennsylvania, but plans to return within the next couple weeks to try again. Some of his friends have taken their own actions to find someone to swap with.
Reji Woods, a professional actor who lives in Washington Heights, said he made a promise to Brisport that he would vote for Jill Stein if he could find someone in Pennsylvania that would cast a vote for Hillary. After Brisport was not able to find any takers in Pennsylvania, Woods spoke to someone he works with from Philadelphia who was an undecided voter, and convinced her to make the trade with him by explaining the potential benefits for the Green Party.
Woods said he does not see vote trading as a moral or legal issue.
“One person might be swayed by a conversation, one person might be swayed by a debate, one person might be swayed by a commercial,” he said. “But when they get in the voting booth it’s their right to vote for whomever they choose.”
If a third-party candidate receives at least five percent of the popular vote during the presidential election, they are eligible for a lump sum of about $10 million from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, according to the Independent Voter Project website.
Vote trading has not been limited to Democrats and Green Party supporters. In September, a New York Times op-ed by two Republicans, John Stubbs and Ricardo Reyes, urged anti-Donald Trump Republicans in swing states to trade their votes for Gary Johnson with people voting for Clinton in Democratic and Republican states. They endorsed a mobile app called #NeverTrump that helps “Trump Traders” find friends to trade with by organizing their contacts by swing states.
Since Democrats are the majority in New York, the state, according to polls, will most likely go to Hillary Clinton this election, meaning added Democratic votes will have little impact on the result. But, New Yorkers who are pro Clinton, or pro Green Party Candidate Jill Stein say vote swapping provides a way to support alternative parties and help Clinton’s chances of winning.
The idea of vote trading was introduced to the U.S. during the 2000 presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Jamin Raskin, a law professor at American University and a Maryland politician, wrote an article for Slate proposing Gore supporters in Republican states should swap votes with Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader supporters in swing states to prevent Bush from winning the election. Within 24 hours, dozens of websites popped up on the internet that helped facilitate the trade, Raskin said.
Raskin said many of these sites were shut down by Republican officials before election day, and an estimated over 40,000 people were engaged in vote trading when this happened. They were terminated with claims that it was violating the constitution, but since then the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is first amendment protected speech. If vote trading had worked out in 2000, Raskin said, he believes Gore may have been able to win the election, since it could have avoided the high amount of votes casted for Nader in the swing state of Florida, which led to Bush’s win.
“Voting is not an expression of activity like writing a poem or singing a song,” Raskin said, warning against Green Party voters in swing states. “Voting is a collective strategic activity, and you’ve got to think about what the ultimate results are of what you’re doing.”
Since it takes a long time to create a large movement, Raskin said he doubts vote trading will be big enough for any politicians to pay attention to it in this election.
James A. Gardner, an election law expert and law professor at University at Buffalo, said he sees the practice of vote trading as commodifying votes, which is undemocratic.
“It is quite clearly a violation of the spirit of what an election is supposed to be,” Gardner said. “And to that extent people’s suspicion of the practice seems justified to me.”
Vote trading is a spoken agreement, which means it relies heavily on trust. Bret Lehne, 28, lives in Williamsburg and will be trading his vote for Clinton with a friend of his cousin who lives in Pennsylvania and wants to vote for Stein. Lehne said he has made a risk-reward calculation, and doubts he will be betrayed by the other voter, but if he is he won’t feel like he has given up something of value, since a vote for Hillary won’t matter in New York anyway.
“If he thinks he can scam Jill Stein into the presidency, I wish him luck,” Lehne said.