In the 2000 presidential election, Ralph Nader’s vote
total in Florida exceeded President Bush’s margin of victory
in the state. After the dust settled, many liberals pointed their
fingers squarely at Nader — then running on the Green
Party’s ticket — for taking votes away from Democratic
candidate Al Gore and denying him the presidency.

To prevent a similar scenario in the upcoming Nov. 2 election,
the websites like VotePair — which counts Democrats, Greens
and Nader supporters among its ranks — are enabling
supporters of Nader and other third-party candidates in swing
states such as Michigan to trade their votes with backers of
democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in safe states, where
polls are predicting a clear victory for either Kerry or Bush.

Websites also urged voters to adopt such a strategy in the 2000
election.

On the site, www.votepair.org, third-party supporters pledge to
vote for Kerry to ensure his victory in their closely-contested
state, while Kerry backers in safe states agree to vote for a
third-party candidate. This tactic guarantees that the third-party
candidate’s national vote tally is not diminished by the
reluctance of his supporters to vote for him in states that might
subtract enough votes from Kerry’s side to get Bush
re-elected.

“Michigan is in play,” said Steven Yoder,
VotePair’s marketing coordinator and founder of
Voteexchange.org, a similar site that facilitated vote trading in
2000. “Michigan is a way for people whose first choice is
Nader and (Green Party candidate David) Cobb to have their vote
registered elsewhere and not contribute to a Bush
victory.”

In a Time magazine poll conducted last week among registered
voters nationwide, the percentage of respondents who said they
would vote for Nader is greater than the margin between Kerry and
Bush. That means that it is possible for Nader to become a
“spoiler” candidate — a label his campaign has
vigorously rejected in press conferences.

Despite some Democrats’ assertions that “a vote for
Nader is a vote for Bush” and vote trading’s potential
contribution to a Kerry victory, neither campaign’s Michigan
organization has voiced support for the practice.

“I’m not in favor of it,” said Margaret
Guttshall, Nader spokeswoman for Michigan. “It feeds into the
lie that Nader is responsible for Bush in the White House.

“What’s going to determine this election is what
John Kerry does, not what Nader and his supporters do,” she
added.

As reported by the Detroit Free Press on Sept. 22, Kerry’s
Michigan campaign has also said it is not encouraging vote
trading.

As of last night, 2,459 individuals had registered at
VotePair’s website. This is far short of the estimated 36,000
total votes that were traded by similar sites in the last
presidential election, according to VotePair.

But Yoder said he expects the number of registrations to
dramatically increase as the election approaches, anticipating the
same accelerating trend that marked 2000’s vote-pairing
campaign. The 2000 effort was led by several independent sites,
which this year pooled their resources and formed VotePair to seek
better results this time around.

Despite criticisms from diverse quarters — the Republicans
have also condemned the practice and questioned its legality
— Yoder defended vote trading as a way for third-party
backers, who divide their support between at least five candidates,
to avoid being marginalized and to unite in collective action.

He also challenged the assertion of many voters that Bush and
Kerry are essentially identical. Third-party supporters have more
common ground with Kerry than with Bush, he said.

“We really believe that no matter where progressives are
coming from, our issues are going to be more positively affected by
Kerry,” Yoder said.

He also encouraged college-aged voters to participate in vote
trading, adding that the group is doing college outreach.

“We see a lot of potential among students and young
people. They’re on the Internet more,” he said. Younger
voters have more faith in online communication, he added.

VotePair encourages Michiganders who support Nader, Cobb or
Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik to trade their
votes with Kerry backers in safe states by registering at
www.votepair.org. Actual vote trading begins Wednesday.

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