Monday, August 27, 2012

Carolin Combs: VOTES FOR SALE

 What’s your vote worth?

Approximately one pizza.  Small. 

All the recent public hand-wringing about the vote-swapping and vote-selling web sites got me wondering about the going rate for purchase of a single American vote.

I’ve checked out a couple of vote-swapping sites; the idea behind these sites is to get a third-party-leaning voter (usually Nader) in states where the presidential vote is very close to vote for one of the main candidates (usually Gore), in exchange for which a person in a state where the election is already over will vote for the third-party candidate.  In this way, the Greens are supposed to get 5% of the total vote, assuring them of matching funds in the next election cycle, and the a-vote-for-Nader-is-a-vote-for-Bush crowd get told to shut up. 

Have a look at Nader Trader or if you need more explanation.

This idea, that voters might swap their votes, is causing a certain amount of angst in the punditocracy.  Some sites have even been shut down.  However, there is absolutely no difference between this activity and the practice of “vote pairing” that goes on in every legislature in the country.  People discuss their votes.  No money changes hands.

But, in a poke-in-the-eye at the obscene fundraising requirements of political life, James Baumgartner, a fellow in upstate New York, started a vote auction site back in the summer. 

In an interview in Wired magazine, he explained his project thusly: "In the current election system, the voter is a product to be sold to the corporations. But they're being sold through this convoluted method of advertising, consultants, (and) traveling. Voteauction is making a more direct line -- the old cutting-out-the-middle-man approach."

Hey, if you can auction a kidney on e-bay, why not something more portable, like a vote?

In the same article, Jamin Raskin, a law professor at American University, takes Krumholz's reactions further. He noted that, for starters: "For someone to facilitate an exchange of money for a vote would in most jurisdictions constitute criminal conspiracy."

Then again, the reason we have this ridiculous campaign finance system is that in 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that when it comes to campaigns, money equals speech and therefore, political donations could not be restricted.  So, does money still equal speech if you give someone money for their vote?

Raskin went on to say that “…we have now evolved a system in which it's OK for money to buy elections, and yet we somehow cling to the fantasy that there's something deeply immoral about the purchase of an individual vote.”  Under the current system, there are lots of entities that make good money on the election, and none of them are the voter.

The Voteauction idea is that blocs of votes by state will be auctioned off, probably to organizations. The total pot for each state would then be split among the registered vote auctioners for that state, and the winning bidder would cast the purchased ballots however he wished.  Obviously, no candidate would touch this setup.  At least not with his own fingers.

Now, let’s talk money.  As of early September on Voteauction, a couple of Kansans were getting $100 bids for their votes.  As with so many e-bay auctions, this is waaay over actual retail.

I figured it this way: according to, the total funding available to the big 5 presidential candidates, from both private and public sources, comes to about $525 million.  Looking back at the 1996 election, about 96 million people voted.  Predictions are that even fewer may vote this time.  You can do the math – if the candidates spend the whole $525 million, each vote will have cost an average of $5.50. 

A small pizza.  Enjoy your dinner.  Hold out for more next time.

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