On the November 6 episode of Penn Jillette’s Sunday School, Jillette announced that he had engaged in vote swapping. The idea of vote swapping is that a third-party supporter in a swing state should make an agreement with a major-party supporter in a safe state to swap votes. This is done in the hopes of maintaining or increasing the popular vote total of third-party candidates while keeping a disliked major-party candidate from winning. Many libertarians will fault Jillette for voting for Hillary Clinton in Nevada in exchange for having Clinton supporters in California vote for Gary Johnson on the grounds that Clinton is the greater of two evils, contrary to Jillette’s beliefs. While this may be true, there is a case for supporting Clinton precisely because she is the greater evil. Let us focus instead on the act of vote swapping itself and why it is a terrible idea.

Trust Issues

There is no guarantee that the safe-state voter or voters will actually vote third-party. Such a proposal could simply be a ruse by major-party supporters to weaken third parties by getting their supporters to vote for duopoly candidates. In Jillette’s case, he claimed to get better than a one-for-one deal, saying that “about 11 or 12 people told me they would vote for Gary Johnson in other states.” But for someone who claims to live by reason and evidence, Jillette is believing these people on blind faith.

Making A Difference

Jillette said,

“If your state is absolutely not a borderline state; if your state is not Florida, not North Carolina, not Ohio, … not Nevada, please do a third-party candidate. And if your state is borderline, then maybe you want to vote for the lesser of two evils.”

This is a bad idea on two counts. First, the likelihood that your one vote will decide the presidential election is effectively nil, regardless of how close the polls are. You are more likely to die while traveling to or from the polling place than you are to cast a decisive vote in most cases. Second, the way that third parties have made a difference thus far has been to exceed the margin of victory between the major-party candidates in close elections, thus making the major parties pay attention to their issues in order to court their voters. Only once did a third-party presidential candidate defeat a major-party candidate. With vote swapping, the voters who support third parties can be safely ignored by Republicans and Democrats, as they will not be in states where their voting block could alter the outcome.

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