Like every presidential election before it, today's race between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump will be decided not by America's popular vote — referring to the actual number of people across the country who cast ballots for each candidate — but by the Electoral College, which is comprised of individuals called electors from each state. This year, the increasingly antiquated method of choosing the next president has resulted in greater popularity of a practice known as vote trading. What is vote trading, and what potential role does it play on Election Day in 2016?
So-called vote trading first gained attention back in 2000, when some members of the U.S. electorate tried to ensure that votes for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader wouldn't draw enough support away from Democratic nominee Al Gore to hand the win to George W. Bush, the Republican candidate. As you'll recall, that year marked the fourth time in history that the eventual winner (in this case, Bush) failed to earn the popular vote yet still amassed enough Electoral College votes to win. Some Democrats claimed Nader's candidacy caused Gore to lose, though that myth has since been debunked.
Essentially, vote trading is a way for voters in competitive states to "swap" votes with residents of swing states, giving each voter a chance to cast a ballot where it could have a greater impact.
An app called #NeverTrump aims to connect voters who seek to prevent a Trump presidency and are interested in trading their ballots. Its App Store description reads, in part:
Red or Blue, we must all unite to defeat Trump this election. We match Hillary voters in blue states with third-party voters in swing states to help them trade votes. Hillary gets more swing votes and third-party candidates get their votes counted. ... Whether you are for Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, let's agree on one thing: Never Trump.
Trimian began developing the app shortly after the Democratic National Convention in July. Founder and CEO Amit Kumar spoke to Mashable when the app launched Sept. 12, explaining that as an immigrant who only secured his citizenship several years ago, he felt passionate about helping Clinton win the election:
Bringing up a 7-year-old and a 16-month-old [my wife and I] thought that just to be sitting on the sidelines was not an option. Unfortunately, living in California we knew our vote wouldn't count for much because it's a pretty blue state. So, we started thinking about what we could do.
Though vote trading is completely legal — in 2007, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that swapping votes is protected under the First Amendment — it's important to know there's no way to verify the ballots are cast as agreed, at least not with #NeverTrump. As Kumar told Mashable about the app:
We don't track actual trades, because the app is really a platform for free speech, and we don't want to get into the business of whether or not the trades are really happening.
In fact, some Republicans have been encouraging Trump supporters to sign up for the app — or visit the website known as TrumpTraders.org — and dupe strangers out of voting for Clinton. Other voters, like undecided Virginia resident Katie Brown, regard vote trading as a means of rigging the election. "I don’t see how trading a vote is any better than bribery," she told Vox.
At the end of the day, however, vote trading is simply a discussion between two voters who change their minds about for whom they'll cast their respective votes. Because no money or services are exchanged, it's deemed allowable under the law.