Swapping Apps Aim to Give Weight to More Votes

Written by MJ Tidwell

By MJ Tidwell
BU News Service

Wish your vote mattered? Well, there’s an app for that.

Technology has found its way into every facet of life, and the 2016 election is no exception. A new wave of “vote swapping” apps and websites have emerged, offering to connect voters across state lines so that everyone can feel they have an impact.

The concept itself is simple, said Amit Kumar, who created the #NeverTrump app.

“The basic idea that we wanted to work on, is given a person who is living in a non-swing state, what can they do to have an impact in the election?” he said.

Kumar’s app, and others like it, connect two voters in different states. Mostly, it’s one voter in a swing state who wants to vote for a third party candidate, and another voter in a safely blue or red state who wants his or her vote to count.

The voter in the swing state promises to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and the voter in the partisan state promises to vote for a third party candidate.

For the 2016 election, key swing states are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to Politico.

Marielle Cabillo, a voter in blue California, likes the idea.

“Even though the person in the swing state would not personally vote for their preferred candidate, it makes sense to swap their vote with another citizen in a less pivotal state,” she said. “This also helps ensure that the candidate they don’t want will have a greater chance of not winning.”

Obviously, Kumar’s #NeverTrump app favors Clinton, and he said that defeating Trump is the key focus. However, he also sees it as a long-term tool that will give more power and credibility to third party candidates and increase citizen impact on the election.

The Electoral College started as a great idea, but now it has taken citizen involvement down to a few swing states,” Kumar said. With the #NeverTrump app and its in-app chat function, he said individuals will be able to take back the democratic process.

Because the in-app chat function allows voters to coordinate across state lines, Kumar said it could potentially create grassroots efforts for third party campaigns.

The idea has some skeptics.

“Interesting strategy,” said Carson McGuffin, a voter in the swing state of North Carolina. “But if you were that politically motivated, wouldn’t it make more sense to just lie and then basically cause a double dipping effect?”

This question, and the idea of trust and true identity, is integral to the success of these vote swapping apps. Since there is no way to tell how someone actually votes, the apps try creative ways to make people feel comfortable with swapping their vote and confident that the other person will follow through on their promise.

Along with the in-app chat, #NeverTrump allows you to reconnect with people you once knew who have moved to a different state. The app also allows you to link social media. That way, voters can see if the person they’re matched with is who they say they are.

“Connecting with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, what have you, you can see that this person is indeed in Ohio and he has been talking about Gary Johnson this whole time. This is not just a Trump supporter who wants me to throw my vote away,” Kumar said.

There are other approaches. VoteSwap.us creator Steven Buss wanted to only match people with friends and friends of friends.

The hope is that the social pressure of not lying to your friends would increase the likelihood of people following through with their vote swapping pledges,” Buss said.

Vote swapping has its roots in the 2000 election when then 19-year-old Scott Aaronson created NaderTrader.com. The website wasn’t hugely successful given the relative newness of social media at the time, but the idea stayed and resurfaced with the advent of new technology such as smartphone apps.

Aaronson, now a well-known theoretical computer scientist, published a blog post in September entitled “The Ninth Circuit ruled that vote swapping is legal. Let’s use it to stop Trump.”

The post brings up a good question about the legality of vote swapping, and Aaronson is correct: a 2007 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case in California ruled that vote swapping is protected under the First Amendment because the votes are not being exchanged for personal reasons such as money.

Despite the ruling, some people still don’t feel that vote swapping is a good idea.

“I don’t think it’s ethical and I think everyone should be personally responsible for their own vote,” said Cayla McVey, a voter from Republican Indiana.

So will vote swapping have an impact on the 2016 election? Not a huge one, according to Kumar and Buss.

“Back on October 1st I would have said they would make the difference,” Buss said. But Clinton’s lead in the polls throughout most of October and third party candidate Gary Johnson’s decrease made for a swing large enough to offset the need for vote swapping.

“This has led to widespread complacency and a lack of any feeling of urgency to stop Trump from winning,” Buss said.

Now, with just a week to go until Election Day, the FBI’s surprise disclosure that it may be reopening the investigation into Clinton’s private e-mail server has thrown her lead into question.

With early voting nearly done and a remaining few days remaining, it seems unlikely to affect this election. The effect on future elections remain unclear.

Kumar believes disruption takes place slowly, in steps.

Things look normal until they don’t,” he said.

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