A piece from yesterday's Sun-Sentinel, in the sunniest part of sunny Florida.
In which I say:
In the Electoral College where we choose presidents, only some states are "in play," or close enough to make votes matter a lot. If a state is in play, the system punishes people who vote for anyone outside the two "major" parties. The reason is that in most states the Electoral College is "winner-take-all," which means if you get the most popular votes, even less than a majority, you get all the electoral votes.
So a few votes can swing the entire outcome. Those 537 Republican votes in 2000 in Florida meant George W. Bush was credited with all 25 electoral votes and Al Gore got nothing. But there were 97,488 votes for Ralph Nader in Florida in 2000. That's not much, compared to the 2.9 million Bush and Gore collected.
But 97,488 is a lot more than the final margin of 537, and many of those Nader voters would have picked Gore over Bush.
So, Naderites "cost Gore the election" in Florida. And there have been other elections where independents changed the outcome. In 1992, Ross Perot got 19 percent of the popular vote, affecting the outcome in 15 or more states and possibly swinging the election to Bill Clinton.
What are voters to do? Suppose you love Indira, the independent candidate, but feel strongly that Rex the Republican would be better than Del the Democrat. You want Indira to have more votes nationally (she needs 5 percent to qualify for public funding of her next campaign). But you don't want to risk having Del beat Rex in your home state.
In the brightest red and darkest blue states the outcome won't be close, and you can vote your heart. In close states, though, you want to devise a "swap," so the candidate you like best gets an increased vote total nationally, but the candidate you like second still beats the candidate you hate.
So a Florida or Ohio voter might agree to vote for Rex, even though they like Indira best. A North Carolina or California voter who favors Rex might agree, in exchange, to vote for Indira.
There were several websites set up to accomplish these sorts of swaps. In 2000, there were voteswap2000.com and votexchange2000.com. In 2004, we saw votepair.org. There are others, and likely will be more.