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"Ralph Nader had been a hero of mine for almost four decades... But the more politically practical side of me was angry in 2000 about having gone down to yet another glorious liberal defeat because people of remarkably similar principles could or would not compromise with each other. I had fantasized with friends about a vote swap... So along comes votepair.org to turn my fantasy into a reality. To whoever is reading this, I say, 'Nader voters of America, join us. You have nothing to lose but George Bush.'"
—Jay Seidenstein
Honolulu, Hawaii
First votepair.org registrant

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Updated October 20, 2004

Questions About Vote Pairing

Questions About Votepair.org

Questions About the Legality of Vote Pairing

Questions About Safe States and Swing States

Questions About Electoral Reform

What is vote pairing?

Through Vote Pairing, Green Party members, Independents, Libertarians and others sympathetic to the David Cobb, Ralph Nader and Michael Badnarik candidacies in swing states register their personal decision to vote for Kerry-Edwards while Democrats in safe states register their personal decision to vote for Cobb, Nader or Badnarik. After a participant enters his or her home state and candidate preferences, he or she will then be "paired" with another progressive voter to give everyone a vivid personal glimpse of how this big political coalition is actually working. Votepair.org allows paired partners to contact one another directly (by email or other means of communication) to engage in a more detailed political dialogue. This can also provide an opportunity for participants to feel comfortable that others have joined the alliance in good faith. We do NOT facilitate any means of communication other than email.

Will vote pairing make any difference?

Almost certainly. The race is razor-close. In 2000, the shift of just a few thousand votes in Florida (the victory margin was 537 votes), New Mexico (365 votes), or Iowa (4,144 votes) could have made all the difference. In just three weeks on-line before a group of Republican secretaries of state moved to shut down vote-trading websites in 2000, at least 36,000 people, including more than 1,400 in Florida, participated. Hundreds of thousands more were educated about strategic voting. Imagine the impact we can have with more than six weeks at our disposal. With 50,000 participants, we can win the election and meet all of our goals.

Why are you saying "vote pairing" rather than "vote trading" or "vote swapping"?

"Vote pairing" is more accurate. We are pairing progressive voters who have reached similar conclusions about the necessity of a strategic cross-party political alliance in the 2004 election. Nothing is "traded." Everyone votes his or her conscience.

But if you're voting your conscience, shouldn't you be voting for the person you agree with the most?

Not necessarily. John McCain will be voting for George W. Bush in November even though he'd rather be voting for John McCain (and has every right to do so). Howard Dean will be voting for John Kerry even though he'd rather be voting for Howard Dean. It's in the very nature of democratic politics that we often end up not voting for the person we agree with the most in order to advance our most important collective objectives. Vote Pairing actually gives progressives a way to vote their conscience by defeating Bush and supporting the critical voice of third parties at the same time.

How do I know that the person with whom I am paired will honor their pledge?

People join the vote pairing movement because they believe in its goals and want to advance them. But we can no more guarantee that our participants will keep their word than the Republican Party can guarantee that John McCain will actually vote for George W. Bush in November or the Democratic Party can guarantee that Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich will vote for John Kerry. (The Green Party couldn't even get Nader to register Green in 2000 and he was their candidate!) A public statement of support is one thing, and the ballot box is another. There is a secret ballot in America and we honor that. But having said this, we believe all participants have a moral obligation (as opposed to a legal one) to keep their word or, if they change their minds, to notify their paired partner so they can re-register. In terms of organized efforts to subvert our work, votepair.org incorporates strong checks against deception since we put participants in direct touch with each other. We will also have a range of security measures in place to screen out and block fraudulent registrations. Just as we will not be intimidated by Republican officials who consider political compromise and coalitions a form of criminal vote-buying, we will not be intimidated by Republican dirty tricksters who try to wreck our alliance.

If you think your pair partner is an imposter, there's a simple solution: don't do it. You can simply say "no, thank you" and start over again by sending an email to help@votepair.org. We will reset your account so you can be repaired with another voter.

Could George Bush supporters sabotage the vote pairing effort to help Bush while hurting John Kerry, David Cobb, Ralph Nader or Michael Badnarik?

Theoretically, this kind of subterfuge could happen, but it will not affect the outcome in the Electoral College. Bush supporters who register intending fraud would have two options:

1. Pose as third-party supporters from swing states. They then would be paired with Kerry voters from safe states. This would decrease the number of Kerry votes in safe states, which would not affect the outcome in those states. (Votepair.org defines safe states very conservatively to ensure that these states remain safe regardless of the impact of vote pairing.)

2. Pose as Kerry supporters from safe states. They then would be paired with Cobb/Nader/Badnarik voters from swing states. This would decrease the number of third party votes in swing states, a strategy counter to the aims of the Bush campaign, which believes that the fracturing of the progressive vote in swing states benefits Bush.

Doesn't this effort further fragment progressive forces in 2004?

On the contrary. We deplore the bitter divisions among America's progressive Democrats and third party enthusiasts, divisions that are badly exacerbated by winner-take-all elections. We are working to find common ground around the goals of defeating Bush, respecting third parties and rebuilding America's progressive majority.

How is vote pairing affected in the states where Ralph Nader's or David Cobb's position on the ballot is being challenged?

By the time we began actually pairing voters on October 13, all (or nearly all) of the ballot challenges were resolved. Kerry supporters in safe states where third party candidates are not on the ballot can still register. You will be given the option to select write-in candidates for whom you would be willing to vote strategically. Nader, Cobb, and Badnarik supporters in swing states where their first choice candidate is not on the official ballot can now register for votepairing if they are planning to cast a write-in vote.

Since electors are not allocated on a winner-take-all basis in Maine and Nebraska, can Maine and Nebraska voters participate in vote pairing?

Yes. Although the Congressional District Method has been used to distribute electoral votes in Maine since 1972 and in Nebraska since 1996, neither state has ever actually split its electoral votes. Since the race in Maine is very close and Bush is sure to win in Nebraska's congressional districts, VotePair is allowing both Maine and Nebraska voters to register to pair.

When will I be paired with my vote pair partner?

We began assigning pairs on October 13. You will be paired as soon as there is a suitable match available.

Why haven't I been paired yet?

Depending on when (and from where) you registered, you may not be paired for a while or you may not be paired at all because we have MANY more safe state than swing state registrants. In addition, we are pairing from the safest safe states (UT, AL, MA, etc.) first, so participants from safe states where the race is closer have a slimmer chance of being paired.

If you are a third-party supporter from a swing state and you are not paired within 24 hours of registering, please email help@votepair.org.

If you aren't paired by the time you cast your ballot, you are under no obligation to vote for your strategic choice.

Why did you wait until mid-October to start issuing pairs? I'd like to know who my VotePair partner will be right away.

(1) To assign pairs, we need to decide whether your state is a swing state or a safe state. In a close election, this can be difficult. Delaying the pairing process a bit means basing pairings on more stable and accurate information about the states. We want to avoid pairing you too early so we don't have to nullify your pair later because the status of your state or your partner's state changed.

(2) When we match you with a voting partner, we optimize your pairing to maximize its effectiveness and safety: we want to make sure that your participation wins electoral votes for Kerry without losing any. Accumulating a large number of participants to pair all at once helps us do this.

(3) To protect the system from certain kinds of abuse and fraud, we'll be keeping a close eye on VotePair registrations. Waiting a while before we start pairing allows us to identify patterns in the registrations and remove fraudulent participants before they're paired.

Then why not wait to issue pairs until immediately before the election?

(1) VotePair participants should have a chance to communicate with their partner about voting strategy. Waiting until the last moment would make that impossible.

(2) Some VotePair participants (early voters, vote-by-mail state voters, absentee voters) will need to vote before November 2. Waiting until the last moment would make that impossible.

Where is your site based?

Votepair.org is hosted on several servers all over the United States.

Who is behind votepair.org?

Votepair.org is an exciting joint effort of 20 political activists from across the spectrum and the country. It includes nearly all of the operators of the major vote pairing websites in 2000, including Nader Trader, WinWincampaign.org, Voteexchange2000.com, and voteexchange.org. Through these and other sites, at least 36,000 people, including more than 1,400 in Florida, participated--and we hope they all come back this year and bring their friends. The organizers of votepair.org include Democrats, Greens, and independents. Votepair.org does not receive money from, or give money to, any presidential candidate's campaign.

What are the goals of votepair.org?

1. We believe that strong, progressive third parties are critical to our nation's future and that citizens have the right to vote strategically. Votepair.org seeks to give progressive voters more options by enabling us to defeat George Bush in 2004, support third parties, and build a progressive majority.

2. Through vote pairing, we seek to facilitate communication between voters. By engaging with each other to vote strategically, voters are asserting control over presidential elections--putting it back in the hands of citizens, where it belongs.

3. We seek to draw attention to the flaws in our current Electoral College system and support electoral reforms such as Instant Runoff Voting.

How do you decide which candidates are listed as being on the ballot in each state?

Well, we know John Kerry is on the ballot in all 50 states plus Washington, DC. To track whether Ralph Nader, David Cobb, and Michael Badnarik are on a state's ballot we monitor the ballot access information on www.votenader.org, www.votecobb.org, and www.badnarik.org. Nader and Cobb's ballot status is still being determined in several states. Badnarik is on the official ballot in every state except New Hampshire and Oklahoma. In states that allow write-ins, if third party candidates are not on the official ballot, they are listed as write-ins.

Where do you stand on political and government efforts to keep Nader, Cobb and other third party candidates off the ballot?

VotePair believes that, in a political democracy, all serious candidates should have a place on the ballot and ballot access laws should not be designed in such a way as to restrict voter choice and reduce the pool of candidates. The candidates should compete by way of political debate, persuasion and mobilization leading up to election day, not by driving other candidates off the ballot. Furthermore, it is short-sighted for Democrats to try to deny Nader a place on the ballot since Nader supporters are needed to vote for progressive candidates in races further down the ballot (Senate, House, state legislature, city council, etc.). Rather than remove Nader from the ballot and leave his sympathizers dispirited and dejected at home, it makes far more sense to try to convince Nader-leaning progressives in swing states to join VotePair and vote for Kerry, knowing that Nader will be on the ballot and receive meaningful support from our coalition in other states.

Why are you listing write-in candidates?

We are listing write-in candidates for two main reasons. First, we believe that ballot access laws in some states unfairly restrict the participation of serious candidates. (See ballot access FAQ). Second, we know that some swing state supporters of third party candidates who are not on their state's official ballot are planning to write in their first choice candidates, and we want these voters to be able to participate in strategic voting through votepair.org.

How do I write in?

See the Write In Nader website's How To Write in Nader page and the Cobb Campaign's Write In page for instructions on writing in a candidate's name on your ballot.

Why does a coalition to unite America's progressives now include Libertarians?

A number of Libertarians contacted Vote Pair about participating. At first we were surprised, but actually it makes a lot of sense. The militarist and anti-civil liberties policies of the big-spending Bush administration appall most Libertarians. Indeed, on most of the urgent and important issues facing America, progressive Libertarians have every reason to participate in our coalition to defeat Bush. Libertarians are generally pro-choice, pro-civil liberties, pro-gay rights, anti-Patriot Act, anti-Ashcroft, against Bush's reckless foreign policy, against the billions of dollars in corporate welfare handed out by the Republican Party, against Bush's war-driven deficit spending, against the accelerating blurring of the line between church and state, supportive of the rights of third party candidates to get on to ballots and participate in debates, and pro-free speech, and pro-freedom of expression and association. Of course, we do not support everything that the Libertarian presidential candidate, Michael Badnarik, says or thinks - any more than we support everything that Kerry, Nader or Cobb says or thinks - but we are convinced that it makes good political sense to include progressive Libertarian voters in our coalition. It will lead not only to a substantial political victory for progressives and Libertarians, but also to some interesting political dialogue and alliances.

Libertarians Against Bush

Does votepair.org also facilitate alliances between Republican and Constitution Party supporters?

Votepair.org facilitates strategic voting for supporters of David Cobb, Ralph Nader, Michael Badnarik and John Kerry. But we support the right of individuals from any party to engage in strategic voting.

Is "vote trading" illegal?

Not at all. Vote trading and "log-rolling" are the operating principles of democratic coalitions and legislative politics all over America. What's illegal is vote buying and vote selling, activities we have nothing to do with and condemn. Indeed, one reason we love the vote pair movement is that it begins to liberate us from the tyranny of big money in our presidential elections.

Is vote pairing legal?

Yes, of course, it is a form of political association and expression protected by the First Amendment. No state even tried to make vote-pairing or 'vote-trading' illegal in 2000 and none of the tens of thousands of people who did it were ever prosecuted for anything.

The reason people wonder about this is that six Republican state secretaries of state, led by California's Bill Jones, tried to shut down the movement in 2000 by claiming that vote-trading is a form of vote-buying and selling. This is absurd since nothing of material value ever changes hands. Yet, facing a series of hysterical criminal prosecution threats from these partisan officials, some website operators reluctantly shut their sites down--which almost certainly affected the outcome of the election.

The ACLU and the National Voting Rights Institute, assisted by Harvard Law Professors Laurence Tribe and Alan Dershowitz and American University Law Professor Jamin Raskin, promptly brought a free speech lawsuit seeking relief in California. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in the plaintiff's favor; we now await a final judgement in this case, Porter v. Jones, which you can examine at the ACLU website.

Meantime, the new California Secretary of State has publicly announced that he does not consider vote-trading to be a form of vote-buying and selling or otherwise illegal. We have a phalanx of constitutional lawyers and law professors, in addition to the ACLU, prepared to fight off any new partisan attempts in other states to curb our political speech rights or destroy our coalition. For further legal and historical analysis, see Jamin Raskin's book, Overruling Democracy pp.47-56 and Marc Randazza's law review articles: The Other Election Controversy of Y2K.

Is it really speech protected by the First Amendment to try to get people from one party to support a candidate from another?

Of course, it is: it happens all the time. The Republicans recruited Senator Zell Miller to give the keynote speech at the Republican Convention to appeal to Democrats to support Bush-Cheney. Ronald Reagan Jr. spoke at the Democratic Convention to appeal to Republicans for Kerry-Edwards and Moveon.org has organized an excellent ad campaign to recruit Republicans for Kerry. In 2000, the Gore campaign sent Congressman Barney Frank and others out on the road to convince Nader sympathizers in swing states to switch to Gore. This kind of electoral persuasion is as American as apple pie, and politicians don't have any more right to try to change other people's minds than citizens do.

You mean I have the right to change my mind?

Yes.

Does vote pairing contradict the spirit of "one person, one vote"?

There simply is no violation of the spirit of "one person, one vote." When each voter goes into the voting booth, he or she votes his or her conscience, taking into consideration all the facts important to that individual, including whether or not to abide by a vote pairing agreement. The ultimate vote cast is an expression of the individual's own political preferences.

To say this violates the spirit of "one person, one vote" in essence argues that a voter may not consider all possible reasons for casting a vote one way or another. Legally, only in the narrow circumstances where the incentive offered to a voter is extraneous to his or her political interests (such as a monetary payment) can he or she be forbidden from considering that incentive when casting their vote.

Does the existence of votepair.org represent the future of the electoral process, or simply the exploitation of a loophole in the process?

The Electoral College and winner-take-all voting are flaws exploited by the major parties. We see vote pairing as helping to restore real democracy within this flawed system. We hope that in the future, the electoral system will reflect the spirit of democracy to a greater degree by providing space for third parties and reflecting the popular vote.

Didn't California try to shut down a vote pairing Web site in 2000?

In 2000, the Republican California Secretary of State, Bill Jones, threatened criminal prosecution against Voteswap 2000, a vote pairing website.

However, in January of this year, Kevin Shelley, the current California Secretary of State, sent a letter to the California Speaker of the Assembly, Herb Wesson, asking for legislative clarification on whether the elections code provisions that prohibit vote buying or bribery apply to vote swapping or vote trading. Shelley's letter stated that unless such legislative clarifications are made, Shelley "will not seek to prevent the operation of websites such as Voteswap2000.com and votexchange2000.com." To date, the legislature has elected not to address the issue.

Further, the American Civil Liberties Union-Southern California, and the National Voting Rights Institute have filed a suit that challenges Jones' radical interpretation of the vote buying and bribery statutes. The outcome of that suit is pending.

Haven't some states made vote pairing illegal?

No states have made vote pairing illegal. Some state regulators have expressed their opinion that it is illegal (for example, Minnesota), while others have recognized it as constitutionally protected speech or simply outside the scope of any existing laws.

What are swing states and safe states?

A swing state is a state that, according to the polls, has no clear majority or plurality favoring either of the two major-party presidential candidates. As a result, both major parties have an opportunity to capture all of the state's Electoral votes under our Electoral College system.

A safe state is one that, according to polls, has a clear majority favoring one of the two major-party presidential candidates. Major-party candidates usually spend little time campaigning in these states because they know that they or their opponent is sure to win the state. For example, a majority of voters in New York is sure to vote for John Kerry, giving him all of New York's 31 Electoral votes. And in Alabama, George Bush is sure to win a majority, giving him all of Alabama's nine Electoral votes. As a result, neither candidate has spent significant time in New York or Alabama.

Why are swing states important?

The outcomes in swing states decide close presidential races.

For example, in the 2000 election, the vote count showed that George Bush won Florida by just 537 votes. As a result, Bush received all of the state's 25 Electoral votes, which allowed him to defeat Al Gore by a mere five Electoral votes. Once this outcome was ratified by a divided Supreme Court, Bush was declared President-despite receiving 544,000 fewer votes nationwide than Gore.

How does VotePair determine which states are swing states and which are safe?

The VotePair team uses several strategies to distinguish swing from safe states.

First, we track the swing vs. safe categorizations on four websites:

Each of these sites track and judge the status of each state using somewhat different criteria. In addition to using these sites' judgements as guides, we also track top media markets where campaigns are spending money when that information is available. (See Two Strategies Outlined in Green.) We also look at average spreads from state polling numbers (from pollingreport.com), and we take into account Professor Sam Wang's statistical analysis.

Why are you pairing voters from Kerry-leaning safe states? Couldn't this lose electoral votes for Kerry?

We want to make sure that we do not contribute to a Bush victory in any states that appear secure for Kerry. So, Kerry supporters from these states who are willing to vote for Cobb, Nader or Badnarik will not be paired right away, and may not be paired at all, unless they are from a state with a huge predicted margin of victory for Kerry (e.g., Massachusetts, New York, D.C.) and we have more third party supporters registered from swing states than Kerry supporters registered in safe Bush states. That is, we will first match up as many Kerry supporters from safe Bush states as possible to ensure that we do not jeopardize Kerry's predicted victory in states where he is ahead. See the section on delayed pairing for more details.

What is the Electoral College?

Excerpted from fairvote.org:

The system of the Electoral College was established in Article II, section I, of the U.S. Constitution. It was modified mainly by the 12th Amendment, which clarified the process.

When U.S. citizens vote for President and Vice President every election year, they are actually electing a set of individual "Electors" to represent their state. The Electors from every state combine to form the Electoral College.

Each state is given a set number of Electors, determined by the number of the its U.S. Senators (which is always 2) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives. The number of Representatives in each state correlates with the state population and is amended every decade when the Census is taken.

On election day, ballots show the names of the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, though voters are really selecting which set of Electors they would like to represent their state.

The party that wins the most votes in each state appoints all of the Electors for that state. This is known as a winner-take-all allocation of Electors. The only exceptions to this are in Maine and Nebraska.

What's wrong with the Electoral College system?

The first problem is that the loser in the popular vote can win in the Electoral College, as in 2000. Second, the winner-take-all method of distributing electoral votes in the Electoral College means that the votes of those who do not support the winning candidate are effectively discarded at the state level. Third, in the Electoral College system, individual citizens have no right to vote for electors. Fourth, small-state voters are over-represented. Fifth, the electoral college gives campaigns little incentive to pay attention to issues that are critical to safe state voters and residents of safe states have much less incentive to vote. For more details see VotePair's Voting Reform: Electoral College.

Does vote pairing have anything to do with Instant Runoff Voting?

Like vote pairing, Instant Runoff Voting is designed to provide election results that more accurately reflect voter preferences. Learn more about Instant Runoff Voting.

For information on other more fair ways to conduct elections: Why Approval Voting Should be Approved Now, Citizens for Approval Voting and Condorcet: A Better Election Method

 

 

 

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