Welcome back.  If this is your first time visiting our election series, you may want to click here for background to get up to speed.

In our last post we mentioned “vote swapping” aka “vote trading” or “vote pairing.”  There are a number of informative resources about this phenomena including this video ; this New York Times article  this article from Law Newz , this voter trading website and even this anti-vote trading site.

In the rest of this post we discuss voter trading and our thinking behind the scenarios below.

If you want to jump in and explore the scenarios, be our guest.


Imagine a Very Unique Final Four

I think of vote trading in the context of my favorite sport, basketball.  Imagine the Final Four, the two semi-final basketball games that conclude the NCAA Basketball tournament. Each game has one minute left on the clock.

Here are the scores.

  • Game 1 Score
    Team A: 72 pts
    Team B: 22 pts
    With a 50 point lead, Team A is going to win, more or less guaranteed.  That’s when the coach from team A puts in all her bench players–hopefully she did it much earlier in the game!—because the results are not in doubt.  Winning by 50 points or 40 or 30 matters not at all.  Team A will win.
  • Game 2 Score
    Team A: 57 pts
    Team B: 57 pts
    Tie game.  The results are very much unknown. A lot could happen in 60 seconds.  If the two coaches want to win, they will keep their best players in until the clock winds to 0:00.

Let’s say with one minute left in both games the coaches could trade players.  What would they do?  Our Game 1 coaches would be indifferent to a trade since their game is over; but, our Game 2 coaches would hesitate. There is too much at stake.

But, what-if our coaches for teams C & D could trade their bench players (who won’t play anyway) for the starters of teams A & B?  They should do it right?   By getting better players for the last minute of the game, both teams enhance their chances of winning Game 2.  Game 1? Makes no difference if the starters, bench players or cocker spaniels finish the game, team A wins.

You follow?

That’s what vote trading is like, but instead of basketball games the contests are individual states in the presidential race.   Citizens in states where the results are assured can “trade” their votes with citizens in states where the results are in doubt, and where each individual vote could yet tip the election.

Game 1 “Wyoming”

Map of Wyoming

For instance, Donald Trump will win Wyoming in November.  According to 270towin.com “Wyoming is currently a Republican stronghold in presidential elections, having voted Democratic just once since 1952 – the 1964 landslide victory of Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater.”  Plus Trump is leading by more than 35%.  Think of this race as “Game 1” above.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson appeals to Trump voters (while Green Party Candidate Lynn Stein appeals to Clinton voters).  Currently Wyoming polls show Johnson with 15%, which amounts to 25,800 (based on likely votes from the 2014 Census).

Game 2 “North Carolina”

Map of North Carolina

But the race in North Carolina is a dead heat between Trump and Clinton.  Currently Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson polls at 8%, which amounts to 253,600 votes (based on likely votes from the 2014 Census).   Think of this race as “Game 2” above, the results are still in doubt.

Gary Johnson will likely fail to win in either state, but votes for him matter more in North Carolina since they could impact the results of “Game 2.”

What-if: Wyoming (Trump) and North Carolina (Johnson) trade 

What-if 30,000 Gary Johnson voters in North Carolina traded their votes with 30,000 Trump voters in Wyoming?  Or what if those voters paired up and agreed to vote for the other candidate in their respective states?

The 30,000 Trump voters in Wyoming would cast their ballots for Johnson, while the 30,000 Johnson voters in North Carolina would cast their ballots for Trump.  Remember in Game 1 (“Wyoming”) those 30,000 make no difference to the outcome; Trump will win.  But in North Carolina, those 30,000 votes would change the results of a dead heat and TIP THE STATE AND ITS 15 ELECTORAL VOTES to the Republican candidate.

The North Carolina Johnson voters feel good knowing that at least one vote went to the Libertarian candidate—albeit in a different state—and they did not unintentionally hand Hillary Clinton their state.

What-if: California (Clinton) and North Carolina (Stein) trade 

Now, what-if the 31,700 Lynn Stein voters in North Carolina paired with 31,700 Clinton voters in, say, California where the results are also not in doubt (Clinton leads by 18% and nearly 2 million votes)?  Then, North Carolina would tip to Clinton!

  • Well what if both trades happened?
  • What if ALL possible trades happened?
  • In what states would it make a difference?

Take a look at our what-if scenarios and try one yourself.


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