Here's How Vote Trading Works

Some voters would do almost anything to keep Donald Trump out of the White House, and some are even trading away their vote. While trading one's vote may sound unpatriotic, it's more strategic than anything else. Although no one likes to hear their vote doesn't count, the fact is some votes are, at the very least, more valuable than others. Ballots cast for one candidate in a swing state can be more influential than those cast for the same candidate in so-called safe states. It's for this reason that some voters are seeking to trade their vote. But how does vote trading work, and perhaps more importantly, is it legal?

The strategy behind vote trading is simple: a voter interested in voting for a candidate already deemed a safe bet in their state swaps their vote with a voter in a swing state who wants to vote for a third-party candidate but really doesn't want their vote to help "the other guy" take power. For example, in this election, most vote trading has revolved around matching Hillary Clinton supporters in safe states like California, where the Democratic nominee is projected to have a 99.9 percent chance of winning, with third-party supporters in swing states like Florida and North Carolina with the aim of keeping Trump from the White House.


Why don't third-party supporters cast votes for Clinton without the promise of a swapped vote? While many third-party Never Trump supporters are determined to keep the Republican nominee from winning the presidency, they still want their voice to be heard in the popular vote. Moreover, in trading their vote rather than simply changing their vote outright they hope to still help their preferred third-party meet the five percent threshold for federal funding.

While vote trading may be sparking nationwide debate now, this election cycle isn't the first time it's been in play. Vote trading is a long-standing (albite rather dubious) practice between members of Congress. However, the first reported instances of internet vote trading occurred during the 2000 election when a handful of websites popped up to help connect Ralph Nadar supporters in swing states with Al Gore supporters willing to trade their vote in safe states. In 2000, vote trading efforts were reported as coming too little too late.

Say what you will about it, but the practice of vote trading is completely legal. In 2007, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the practice of trading votes over the internet via sites like and was protected by the First Amendment. In Porter v. Bowen, judges found "such agreements plainly differ from conventional (and illegal) vote buying, which conveys no message other than the parties' willingness to exchange votes for money (or some other form of private profit.)"

There's more than one way for parties interested in swapping votes to connect this year. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Amit Kumar launched his #NeverTrump app in early September in an effort to help connect third-party voters in battleground states with Clinton supporters in safe states, according to Recode. Websites like,, and enable voters with the shared goal of keeping Trump from winning Nov. 8 to connect and talk about a trade.

Ultimately, any agreements to swap votes are discussed and decided upon by the users themselves. Although some users may agree to a "ballot selfie" as proof of vote, agreements are largely conducted on the honor system. "There's no exchange of money," Vote Swap founder Steven Buss told Paste Magazine. "There's no coercion. It"s just facilitating the pairing of two people who want to maximize the value of their vote."