What ever happened to vote pairing?

It's still around, just not in the 2008 American elections.


Cyrus Farivar
October 22, 2008 9:15PM (UTC)

Back in 2000 and 2004, you may have heard of this thing called "vote swapping" or "vote pairing." The idea is to tactically swap votes with someone in another district where voting for that person has more impact.

In 2000 the idea worked  like this: Voters in California who otherwise would have voted for Al Gore could trade their votes with someone in, say, Ohio. The California voter would vote for the candidate the Ohio voter wanted -- such as Ralph Nader -- while the Ohio voter backed Al Gore instead of Nader. The rationale is that a vote for Al Gore in Ohio carries much more weight than it does in safe California, and the net total of votes on a national scale remains the same.

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This tactic was used in the 2004 American presidential election, and also in the recent election in the Great White North. (The CBC's Jesse Brown argued this week on his podcast, Search Engine, that vote swapping made a difference in at least one local contest.)

So is vote swapping going to take place in the 2008 American election?

It doesn't appear so. According to the site VotePair.org, one of the main sites that organized vote pairing four years ago:

Note on the 2008 presidential election: to be a useful strategy, vote pairing requires (1) a very close race between the top two candidates and (2) one or more strong third party candidates. These do not appear to characterize the 2008 election. In 2008, one alternative voting strategy is a Vote Pact.

What's a Vote Pact? It's a similar, but not identical idea.

Here's what the Vote Pact site says:

Disenchanted Republicans should pair up with disenchanted Democrats and both vote for third party or independent candidates they more genuinely want. This way they siphon off votes by twos from each of the establishment parties. This liberates the voters to vote their actual preference from among those on the ballot, rather than to just pick the "least bad" of the two majors. They could each vote for different candidates, or they could vote for the same candidate. If the later, it could offer an enterprising candidate a path to actual electoral success.

So that means if I'm a Green Party member and I'd rather vote for Cynthia McKinney but I don't want Obama to lose support, I can find another person, say, a Libertarian, somewhere else in the country to cancel out my vote. That way Obama's and McCain's net difference stays the same (they both lose one vote each), and our third-party candidates that we support more get more votes.

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To date, the Facebook group only has 367 members. Sam Husseini, the man behind VotePact.org, seemed to say in a post just last week that he isn't aware of any pairups that have actually happened.

If you end up setting up a vote pact, drop me a line in the comments, m'kay?


Cyrus Farivar

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