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'Nader Traders' may have affected outcome in Florida
(IDG) -- Outraged Democrats have been excoriating Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his followers for siphoning off enough votes from Vice President Al Gore in Florida to potentially throw the presidency to Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Nearly 97,000 Floridians voted for Nader in last week's election.
Yet so-called "Nader Traders" -- Green Party backers who agreed online to vote for Gore in swing states in exchange for Gore supporters voting Green in safe states -- may have helped the Democratic nominee in Florida.
With the margin of victory in the Sunshine State slipping to a few hundred votes in a recount last week, vote-swappers may have cast the deciding ballots. The "vote exchange" Web sites that appeared in the campaign's final weeks recorded nearly 1,400 formal pledges from Florida Nader supporters who said they would instead vote for Gore. They were paired with likely Gore supporters in Democratic and Republican strongholds who had agreed to vote for Nader.
Votetrader.org, an enterprise that assembled data from 10 large exchanges, found that more than 35,000 people had registered nationwide, producing about 15,000 trades that increased Gore's totals in several critical battleground states. The idea was to raise the Green Party's share of the popular vote to 5 percent, the threshold required for federal matching campaign funds in 2004. But only 3 percent of voters went Green.
Those vote-swapping numbers are fungible, proponents acknowledge, because so-called strategic voting is based on an honor system and vulnerable to manipulation and dirty tricks. And some nervous Nader fans acknowledge they would have probably voted for Gore anyway; those swaps, then, served to decrease Gore's popular vote total. But total participation could also be higher. The raw data from the exchanges doesn't include citizens who embraced the strategy by trading with family and friends -- the approach recommended on several sites, including NaderTrader.org. In a two-week period, that Wisconsin-based site saw its traffic soar to more than 650,000 visits, according to creator Jeff Cardille.
And the movement flourished despite a crackdown by California Secretary of State Bill Jones, who accused a Los Angeles-based site of violating state election laws, resulting in the closure of two California sites. American Civil Liberties Union lawyers lost a bid for a temporary restraining order against Jones but say they will continue the fight.
Although traffic may have simply moved to other exchanges, Brent Emerson of Voteswap.org suggests Jones' actions might have dissuaded some voters from participating. A Florida-based exchange, PresidentGore.com, warned Californians not to vote-swap.
Neither the Democratic nor the Green parties officially sanctioned the strategy that was independently conceived to help both groups. "I call them Nader traitors. You should vote your conscience," says Green activist Robert Smith of Tallahassee, Fla.
Nader himself rejected vote-trading, warning of the potential for fraud.
At a rally in Tallahassee last week as the Florida recount proceeded, Greens passed out fliers saying: "It's all over. And the winner of the 2000 presidential election is Aetna, AT&T, BellSouth, Boeing, Citigroup, DuPont, Enron..."
But voting their conscience is precisely what Nader Traders did, according to Cardille. The vote swappers argue their approach was a "win-win" for the environment, abortion rights and other causes.
But the phenomenon serves to underscore the specter of an electoral system in disarray. "We're bound to get some voting reform," says Dorothy Byrne, a Green Party coordinator in Pinellas County, Fla. "Maybe we'll get rid of the Electoral College mess." If that happens, she says, feel free to blame it on the Greens.
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