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Vote Pairing

Back to Election 2000 in America:  Despite fear of splitting the vote between Nader and Gore with a resulting Bush victory, progressive Americans still wanted to vote for Nader—or at least announce to the world that they prefer Nader and would like to see the two-party chokehold on US politics lose its grip.  But how?  Along came Nader trading, also known as “vote pairing” or “strategic voting.”  The premise was simple: would-be Nader voters in swing states would get in touch with Democrats in solidly Republican states and “trade votes” so the swing-stater would vote for Gore (thus not risking the electoral votes for that state) and the red-stater would vote for Nader, where the vote wouldn’t be a risk to Gore, who would lose anyway, and “wouldn’t matter” in the sense of actually getting Nader elected but would still demonstrate interest in the third-party candidate.  More was at stake than just a vote of preference, even if it was cast by a stranger several states away.  If Nader received 5% of the national vote, the Green Party would be eligible for federal public funding in the next election, as well as the possibility of inclusion in the presidential debates (Wikipedia 2006).

Several “Nader Trader” web sites sprung up in 2000 with varying levels of functionality, some being messageboard free-for-alls while others matched up voters automatically. (While most sites were constructed with Nader in mind, voters teamed up for third-party conservative candidate Pat Buchanan as well.)  Vote pairing is informal and nonbinding—and utterly dependent on the web.  While miniscule-scale vote pairing may have occurred pre-internet, it would not have been enough to make a difference (and arguably, it still doesn’t make a difference—Nader did not get his 5%—but the tactic especially as powered by the web is still relatively new).  Only through the internet can geographically separated citizens realistically locate one another to support and implement this tactic. 

Much like the creators of MoveOn and its adherents, as well as many citizens engaged in the Dean campaign, the webmasters of the first crop of vote pairing sites often didn’t have prior experience in politics, much less activism.  While most were at least interested in politics, a greater indicator of involvement was experience with the web (Schussman and Earl 2004).  This seems like a foregone conclusion in some ways—those who make websites tend to have prior experience—but it also suggests that the internet is a natural medium for connecting people.  Joe Trippi doesn’t mince words, calling it “tailor-made for a populist, insurgent movement” (Trippi 2004), reversing the top-down, passive delivery of politics of the past 50, television-numbing years into a new era where citizens create the message, if not directly control the medium.


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