If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and real estate magnate Donald Trump are the major-party candidates in the general election, there will be many voters who are unhappy with their options. Some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders are clamoring for him to run as an independent, and the "Stop Trump" movement has floated the possibility of a third-party bid from the right. But voting third-party in the United States can come with a heavy consequence: tipping the election to the candidate you least prefer. This phenomenon, known as the "spoiler effect," can be avoided with either VotePact or vote swapping. Both approaches avoid benefiting your least-preferred candidate, but only one avoids helping either.
The strategy behind vote swapping is for third-party voters in swing states to find friends in reliable blue or red states to vote for third-party candidates, while the swing state voters cast their ballots for major-party candidates. For example, if someone in Florida (a swing state) wants to vote for Jill Stein (should she be the Green Party's nominee), she could find someone in a state where Clinton (should she be the Democratic nominee) is almost certain to win, such as New York, to cast his vote for Stein, while the Floridian votes for Clinton.
The swing-state strategy works to avoid the spoiler effect because almost all states allocate their Electoral College votes on a winner-take-all basis. If there's a super tight race between major-party candidates in a state like Florida, third-party votes can play a big role in whether the state goes to a Democratic or Republican candidate. Running with the example scenario above, if a bunch of left-leaning people in Florida voted for Stein, it means Trump could have an edge in the swing state. By swapping with New Yorkers or other "safe-state" voters, people can still have a vote cast for Stein while not harming Clinton's prospects.
Vote swapping sends a message to the major parties, but not one most third-party voters are probably eager to send: that they will work with the system as it is to ensure the so-called "lesser-of-two-evils" candidate wins. If voters want long-term changes to the political system — in the form of substantial major party reforms or stronger third parties, for example — rather than just to cast a protest vote that doesn't make an impact, then vote swapping isn't the way to go.
That's where VotePact comes in. In this approach, a disenchanted left-leaning voter and a disenchanted right-leaning voter from the same state make a pact to each vote for a third-party candidate rather than the major-party candidate they dislike least. By taking a "lesser-of-two-evils" vote away from both the Democratic and the Republican candidates, this approach avoids the spoiler effect. But unlike vote swapping, it doesn't give either major-party candidate an advantage. That's an important point for voters who want to send the parties a message of dissatisfaction.
What is more, if VotePact were embraced by a substantial number of people, it could strengthen third parties. Without the barrier of the spoiler effect, more people could be expected to vote third party, and more votes for these oft-invisible candidates could lift them, and their parties, to new heights of visibility. If strong support emerged around a third-party candidate and they began earning 15 percent or more in national polls, he or she might even qualify for access to the presidential debate stage. And, since qualifying for campaign funding from the government requires that a candidate's party earned a certain percentage of votes in the last election, this could increase the viability of third-party bids going forward.
While vote swapping and VotePact both address the spoiler effect, only VotePact avoids assisting major parties while bolstering third parties.