Thomas Fitch supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries but was resigned to vote for Hillary Clinton for president. That changed when the Gilroy resident discovered a vote-trading app called #NeverTrump on Facebook.
Using the app, Fitch connected with a voter from Pennsylvania who was going to cast their ballot for the Green Party’s Jill Stein. They made a deal that if Fitch voted for Stein, the swing state voter would cast one for Clinton.
“This is a way to reclaim my vote,” Fitch said. He also objects to the Electoral College. “It makes you feel a powerless at least in California. My vote doesn’t really count in the big scheme of things.”
Vote trading isn’t a new concept. In 2000, election consumer rights activist Ralph Nader ran as a third-party candidate, and that is thought to be the first time vote trading was tried on a wide scale. But that was before the iPhone. This time around, vote trading has got a new twist; there’s an app for it!
The benefit of getting a voter in a swing state to cast a ballot for Clinton is obvious. The attraction for third-party vote traders is helping their candidate get the numbers to qualify for federal election funding. Their party’s presidential candidate must get at least 5 percent of the popular vote in the previous election. Fitch’s vote for Stein helps the Green Party get to that magic number.
Amit Kumar helped develop the #NeverTrump vote-trading app. He’s the co-founder of a Menlo Park-based startup called Trimian. Kumar is an immigrant from India and has been living in the U.S. for 15 years. Two years ago, he and his wife became American citizens, and this is the first presidential election they’ll be able to vote in.
“I’m not Republican, I’m not a Democrat either,” Kumar said. “This was going to be the election where we find out and where we look at the policies.”
But then Trump won the Republican presidential primary and everything changed.
“This election is clearly is about immigrants,” Kumar said. “Yes, Trump is talking about Muslims, and I’m not a Muslim. He is talking about Mexicans and it’s true I’m not a Mexican. But at some point in time, he’s going to come for me. It’s a matter of course. The Indian-American community is one of the richest in the country and it’s a target.”
With this in mind, Kumar said at one point this summer, polls showed Trump with a slight lead over Clinton and so he went to his computer and started coding. #NeverTrump was one of the apps he developed.
In an effort to refine the app and push it out to a wider audience, Kumar said he enlisted the help of the engineers at his startup. He did this with the blessing of his investors.
For ethical and legal reasons, the vote trade is based on the honor system. There is a chat function on the app, so users can get a feel for the person they’re trading with. There’s also an option to link a user’s Facebook profile to the app, so a potential trader can see what folks have been posting.
So, is vote trading legal? Yes. After the 2000 election, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that vote-trading exchanges are legal and protected by free speech.
Kumar said about 20,000 people have downloaded the app and signed up for the #NeverTrump website.