Politics

Trump Traders: Like Tinder, but for swapping your swing state vote

In this June 21, 2016, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes a photo with supporters after speaking at Fort Hayes Vocational School in Columbus, Ohio. A new poll finds that young voters are starting to come through for Clinton, particularly whites ages 18 to 30.
In this June 21, 2016, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes a photo with supporters after speaking at Fort Hayes Vocational School in Columbus, Ohio. A new poll finds that young voters are starting to come through for Clinton, particularly whites ages 18 to 30. AP

Are you a swing state voter who thinks Donald Trump is the worst option but can’t stomach punching the ballot for Hillary Clinton? Now there’s an app for that.

Trump Traders grew out of the Never Trump app, the unlikely brainchild of a Silicon valley entrepreneur and two former George W. Bush administration officials who founded a Republican pro-Clinton group.

The message is simple: “Friends don’t let friends protest-vote in swing states.”

It’s a way to connect voters so they can say, ‘Hey, I understand you like Jill Stein. I’ll vote for her here and you vote for Clinton in Florida.’ And Hillary Clinton will get a vote in a state that matters.

John Stubbs, founder of R4C16

The idea was to sort users’ contacts into a map of red, blue and swing states so they could persuade their friends to vote strategically. Trump Traders takes it a step further by doing the work of matching Clinton supporters in “safe states,” where the outcome is certain, with third-party voters in swing states to swap their votes.

“These voters are already aligned on one thing: Trump is the worst-case scenario,” said John Stubbs, who co-founded the Republicans for Clinton group R4C16, which created the service. “So we thought OK, let’s come up with a very simple mechanism so they can tell us where they live, who they’re voting for, and match them up.”

Trump Traders is targeting voters, especially millennials, who are planning on voting for third-party candidates in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.

A Clinton supporter in California, for example – where she is expected to win easily – could be matched with a voter who plans to vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in North Carolina. Then they would pledge to trade their votes: The Californian votes for Johnson and doesn’t change the outcome in that state, and the North Carolinian votes for Clinton.

As of Monday more than 10,000 voters had signed up in the week and a half the project has been live. They expect it to continue growing.

Most users are matched within an hour or two, according to Stubbs. Then they can use their Facebook accounts to log into a chat and talk to the voters they have been paired with.

For example, a Clinton supporter in California – where she is expected to win easily – could be matched with a voter who plans to vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in North Carolina. Then they would pledge to trade their votes, so the Californian votes for Johnson and doesn’t change the outcome and the North Carolinian votes for Clinton.

“I was hearing a lot of people saying, ‘I support Clinton but my vote doesn’t count because I live in Louisiana. This is terrible,’ ” Stubbs said. “This project is connecting them with voters in Florida or Ohio (to swap their vote) so they can engage in the electoral process in a way they couldn’t before. And Hillary Clinton will get a vote in a state that matters.”

Stubbs co-founded R4C16 with Ricardo Reyes, a former Tesla and Google executive who also worked in the Bush administration.

“We get it. (Clinton) is not our preferred candidate either,” Stubbs told McClatchy. “I did not enter 2016 thinking I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton. But she will not burn the whole thing down, and Trump is reckless.”

Vote-trading websites aren’t a new idea. In the 2000 election, “Nader Trader” sites sought to help Al Gore by connecting Ralph Nader voters in states that mattered, such as Florida, with Gore supporters in Democratic strongholds. But they were poorly organized and word couldn’t spread fast enough in the internet’s younger days.

If you think Trump is the worst option and she’s the only thing between him and the White House, it’s not enough to stay home. If you stay home, Trump gets half a vote, essentially.

John Stubbs, founder of R4C16

The Trump Traders founders are hoping that technology in 2016, which makes it possible to tap your vote swap into your smartphone in a few minutes, will make it more effective.

The Nader Trader sites were challenged after the 2000 election by the National Voting Rights Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that it was not a violation of California law, since the First Amendment protected this kind of activity and there was no way to verify who the person was or how they would vote. It remains to be seen how modern technology could change that.

“I don’t think that it’s 100 percent settled, that there is a constitutional right to do” vote trading, said Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine’s School of Law who keeps a blog on election law.

“It is not clear that other courts would necessarily agree with the (2000) decision,” he told McClatchy. The question lies in toeing the legal line when it comes to selling or buying votes. Beyond that, it’s up to the voter if they think they are crossing an ethical line, Hasen said.

Stubbs said it was no different from super PACs mining phone banks or friends trying to persuade each other to vote for their candidates.

“If you think about it, it’s the essence of free speech. All we’re doing is connecting two people and empowering them to have this conversation,” he said.

With a week until Election Day, R4C16 is counting on word of mouth, social media and a heavy online advertising push for Trump Traders to make a difference. It’s been a top promoted Facebook post in swing states, and on Monday the group launched an online video ad titled “Remember the Year 2000.” It cautions about the outsized importance of swing state votes, urging viewers to “vote strategically” by signing up to trade.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

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