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Legality of vote swapping

  • Subject: [cg] Legality of vote swapping
  • From: "Kerr, Thomas J." <KerrT@missouri.edu>
  • Date: Fri, 3 Nov 2000 09:57:18 -0600


Two days ago I emailed approximately 400 people to advocate the use of an internet tool enabling the democratic process. Vote swapping, as Nadertrader.com and other organizations support, is a form of solidarity, and is protected by the First Ammendment. 

I write this, in part, because I had been informed of the possible illegal nature of vote swapping. According to the New York Times on Oct 31, California Secretary of State Bill Jones, had threatened to prosecute voters who knowingly break a law "forbidding the use of a 'valuable consideration' to induce someone to vote a certain way. In this case, the 'valuable consideration' presumably would be the promise to change one's vote."
[citation: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/31/politics/01CND-SWAP.html]

In another related NYTimes article dated Nov 1: "Under federal law, the key to something being illegal is a pecuniary inducement to stimulate voting," a Justice Department official said, reading a law that was enacted in 1973. "In other words, money." 
[citation: http://www.nytimes.com/cnet/CNET_0_4_3357315_00.html]

The accompanying argument cites some states' having laws which are more stringent than the Federal system, and apparently this is where California's Secretary is taking his position. "The state secretary is arguing that inducing a person to vote one way or another is a violation of California election laws." [NYT Nov 1] However, in order to determine the ethical or legal nature of my advocating a visit to Nadertrader.com, I contacted Gregory Luke, an attorney at the National Voting Rights Institute [http://nvri.org/] in Boston, an organization cited in the Oct 31 NYTimes article. 

The NVRI is working with the ACLU in Southern California to "call off" Bill Jones' threats citing the California Secretary (a Republican) as being politically motivated. Vote swapping websites start "like minded people communicating" by putting people in touch with each other. 
"At the core this action is protected by the First Ammendment. It is very democratic," said Mr. Luke. He further went on to say that under the definition of Bill Jones it would be illegal for any politician to promise something such as lowering taxes in order to obtain voters' support. 

On Nov 31, Jay Nixon the Missouri Attorney General "obtained a temporary restraining order that stops an Austrian-based Web site from claiming that it can legally buy and sell votes from Missourians. The order, signed by Cole County Circuit Judge Thomas Brown, directs the operators of the Web site vote-auction.com to disclose on the site that the buying and selling of votes is illegal under Missouri law.

While the promise or exchange of money for votes is illegal in the United States, the vote swapping advocated by nadertrader.com is not. In my opinion, while there are outstanding reasons for voting Nader, Gore or simply one's conscience, the addition of the internet to connect people desiring a strategic role in democracy is of significant interest and importance. 

In the NYTimes Nov. 3, Jedediah Purdy, writes: "Of course, vote-swapping can't help everybody. Only voters who tilt toward the margins benefit from it. Bush supporters whose second choice is Al Gore, or vice versa, aren't going to find any trading partners. But vote - swapping might pressure states to give everyone a chance to refine his or her vote. ... In the meantime, vote-swapping gives citizens a chance to say more precisely what they think about the country's politics. That's good for democracy."

Finally, I appreciate the comments of the twelve people who directly responded to my original message encouraging the issue. Clearly there are people out there desiring smart action, in whatever way that might be for them. Vote swapping, as a strategic tool of communicating opportunities, is apparently a considerable value for quite a number of people. Nearly a half-million hits have been registered by nadertrader.com alone. Phenomenon or just plain public interest, the way we vote will never be the same again.

Tom Kerr
Kansas City, Missouri

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