Steve Friday really wants Hillary Clinton to win the White House, so he hatched a scheme to vote for Jill Stein.
Sound strange? You just haven’t heard about vote swapping yet.
Friday, a technical service representative who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, didn’t feel like his single Clinton vote would do much to turn Texas blue, so he used a vote trading app called #NeverTrump to find Robert Munch. Munch is a cannabis extractor living in Denver. Munch feels most connected to Stein, but he also doesn’t want to see Trump in the White House.
The two decided by what Munch called “a gentleman’s agreement” to swap their votes. Friday would vote for the Green Party candidate in Texas and Munch would check the box next to Clinton’s name in Colorado.
While the agreement wouldn’t change the number of popular votes going for each candidate, it would be another vote for Clinton in a competitive state.
The #NeverTrump app is one of multiple efforts to get Americans to vote their conscience but still try and block Donald Trump from the White House. It's not a new concept; in 2000, Ralph Nader supporters used "Nader Trader" websites in an attempt to block George W. Bush while still voting for the Green Party candidate.
Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Gore in 2000 and to Bernie Sander's campaign this year, told USA TODAY that he could see vote trading having a real effect on the election. He said the rise of social media and the lesson that elections really can be close — 2000 was decided by just 537 votes in Florida — means "that the formula is there to execute something like this on a meaningful scale in a lot of places."
"I wish we had this in 2000 in New Hampshire and in Florida,” Devine said.
#NeverTrump has now opened a website as well as the phone app, and it’s founder Amit Kumar, an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, estimates more than 10,000 people have used the site or app since launch.
Kumar became a U.S. citizen a couple of years ago. But once he was finally able to vote, he was disappointed when he realized that California’s record of backing Democrats meant his vote didn’t have the same weight as someone in a battleground state.
“When we found ourselves in the position of actually being able to vote and we realized that ... it might not matter as much because we are in California,” Kumar said, he decided it was time to get creative. Kumar put resources into developing the app for people to be able to vote for whoever they want, while still making sure that Trump isn’t president.
#NeverTrump isn’t the only vote trading site. There are other websites, including one called TrumpTraders, which does the matching for you and offers a 2-to-1 vote match. So if you’re a supporter of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in Ohio you could get two Clinton voters from California to swap with you. John Stubbs, a co-founder of Republicans for Clinton 2016, the group behind TrumpTraders, said at least 1,000 people have signed up for their site.
This might sound as if it confirms Trump's talk about a "rigged election," but it's actually completely legal.
According to a 2007 California appeals court case, vote trading is legal and protected by the First Amendment.
Anlin Wang, a client relationship specialist, also found a trading partner using #NeverTrump.
“The app allows me to add one vote to a third party whilst ensuring that I am not missing an opportunity to make it less likely that Trump wins on Nov 8,” Wang told USA TODAY in an email. “I wouldn't say that I ‘support’ anybody in this election. However, the third party candidate that I am having my vote trading partner vote for is Jill Stein.”
Wang lives in Philadelphia, in a battleground state. Wang's vote partner lives in Fort Lee, N.J., which is a safe Democratic state. The two will fill out their individual absentee ballots and meet Saturday near the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to make sure they've both kept their word. Then they'll walk to the post office to mail their ballots together.
“Me and my trading partner are complete strangers outside of communicating about this, so meeting in person allows us to confirm that neither of us have cheated the other. I see his ballot and put it in the mail drop box for him and vice versa,” Wang said.
But as most things related to this presidential election, sometimes even a vote swap veers off-course.
When Friday and Munch started talking to one another, the margin between Clinton and Trump in Colorado polls was much closer than it is now. According to a rolling average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, Clinton is now ahead of Trump by 6 points in the state.
As Clinton’s lead grew in Colorado, Friday decided he wanted to take his vote elsewhere. He messaged Munch and asked to be “released” from the agreement so he could partner up with someone in a more competitive state.
“Colorado doesn’t look like it’s a swing state any longer,” Friday told USA TODAY last week. “I’m thinking a swing state like Florida.”
Munch agreed and “released” Friday from his pledge. But one week later Friday still hadn’t found a Florida voter — or any other battleground state vote-trader — willing to swap. Now the race in Texas has gotten closer. Trump is ahead in the rolling average by just 5 points, and Texas is considered a “tossup” according to Real Clear Politics. While Friday doesn’t have any notions that Clinton will win Texas, he's now OK with being a part of the anti-Trump vote there.
“I'll be voting Clinton in Texas,” Friday said. “I don't think it a ‘tossup’ state. But, I suppose it's alright that I add to the drubbing Trump will be taking here,” he continued.
Not everyone feels good about vote swapping. Stein campaign co-chair Gloria Mattera said the campaign's position on vote trading is that it is a "failed strategy."
"So-called 'strategic voting' for the 'lesser evil' is a failed strategy that has led directly to the most disliked and distrusted establishment party candidates in history," she said. "We call on all Americans everywhere to vote for the candidate who best represents your interests and values and to continue pushing for real electoral reforms like ranked choice voting."