It took less than two minutes to download the #NeverTrump app for vote trading on my iPhone and fill out my political preferences and state residency.
It took about two seconds for the app to find me my vote match on the app—a Jill Stein voter in Pennsylvania—who would be willing to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton in his embattled state in exchange for me voting for Stein in the District of Columbia. All in all, finding another person to trade their vote for president with me on #NeverTrump took less time than finding a date on Tinder or hailing an Uber. Not to mention actually voting.
The #NeverTrump app is what happens when election anxiety meets Silicon Valley. Vox reported that Bay Area entrepreneur and Clinton supporter Amit Kumar was feeling helpless because he lives in California—a state Clinton will win. Kumar wanted a way to get third-party swing state voters to vote for Clinton without abandoning support for their favored candidate.
The end result is #NeverTrump, an app that, as of Saturday, now totals more than 6,695 members. Most of them are from blue states looking to swap votes with a Gary Johnson or Jill Stein supporter in a toss-up state. The app skyrocketed to #169 on App Annie’s ranking on Thursday, the same day the Vox story on #NeverTrump was published.
Interested vote swappers fill out a simple profile stating where they live and their choice of candidate for president. Third-party swing-state or red-state voters are matched with Clinton supporters, and vice versa. #NeverTrump instantly matches you with a compatible vote-swap match, but it also allows you to find a match on your own—which many users seem to prefer.
Finding your own vote swap match allows users to be picky. Voters even go as far as to specify which state’s residents they would rather swap votes with (better to swap a vote from a truly embattled state like Florida or North Carolina rather than a likely Clinton win in Virginia).
Vote swapping first proliferated with the internet during the 2000 election. Much like in 2016, major party candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush were locked in a dead heat in the days leading up to the 2000 election. It was shaping up to be a race tight enough that support for the Green Party’s Ralph Nader or the Reform Party’s Pat Buchanan could tip the scale in either direction. Nader supporters in swing states were forced to decide between voting for their first-choice candidate and handing the election over to Bush or selecting a candidate they didn’t want. Vote-swapping websites like votexchange2000, Nader’s Traders, and Vote Exchange soon sprang up to offer Nader voters an opportunity to have their cake and eat it too.
But the secretaries of states in Oregon and California saw the online vote-swapping sites as gaming the system in a way that violated their states’ laws. Cease-and-desist letters went out to many of the Nader vote-swapping sites, and many shut down due to fear of legal recourse. The National Voting Rights Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California swiftly filed a lawsuit on behalf of votexchange2000.com and vote-swap2000.com, two of the shuttered sites.
The Daily Dot spoke to Peter Eliasberg, an attorney at the ACLU of Southern California who argued the votexchange2000 case in court. Eliasberg said that thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2007, vote swapping is now considered a form of constitutionally protected speech. However, this only applies to the states under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction, which are Arizona, Alaska, California, and Hawaii. While vote swapping is legal federally, states govern elections.
If election officials in other states wanted to challenge online vote swapping, they could. But they haven’t yet.
“When you involve the internet, it gets tricky,” said Eliasberg.
Ariel Walley, a college student and Gary Johnson supporter from Georgia, told the Daily Dot that she downloaded the app after reading about it on Vox.
“I decided to use (…#NeverTrump) because of incredible frustration with our political system. I feel like the 2016 election is a gamble to see which is most unlikely to unravel America: the deeply entrenched corruption in our political system (Clinton) or the hateful Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism that is causing so much social unrest (Trump),” Walley wrote in an email to the Daily Dot.
Walley said she originally planned to vote for Clinton in Georgia anyway, even though her first pick is Gary Johnson. She said a recent WikiLeaks revelation—the $12 million dollars that the King of Morocco allegedly offered Clinton in order to attend a Clinton Global Initiative fundraiser in that country was “the nail in the coffin” when it came to any positive feelings she had towards the Democratic presidential candidate.
Though later reports found that Clinton decided against going to the event in Morocco and that the Clinton Foundation only received $1 million from a Moroccan export firm (it’s unclear whether the other $11 million ever came in), Walley said Clinton was a “constant frustration that just built and built.”
Then, she heard about the #NeverTrump app.
“I wanted to vote for Gary Johnson to kind of give the middle finger to both parties, but realistically speaking, that’s not an option in our current system,” wrote Walley.
Walley is swapping her vote for Clinton in Georgia with a voter in California who has agreed to vote for Johnson in return. Since California outlaws ballot selfies, Walley has no way of knowing whether the other party will follow through. But either way, the consequences of swapping with a voter from deeply blue California are few.
“Best case, I get a vote for Gary! Worst case, they vote for Hillary or Trump, but in a blue state like California, that one vote won’t change the outcome, so it’s a safe trade,” wrote Walley.
But not everyone on the #NeverTrump app is in Walley’s exact position. How soon until the #NeverTrump app is invaded by hordes of Trump supporters from r/TheDonald and 4chan’s /pol/? Or breached by Russian hackers? From the DNC hacks to Wikileaks and from hordes of Trump trolls skewing internet polls to fake Trump news sites originating in Macedonia, the 2016 election has both proved how little we can trust the internet and how much we’ve grown to depend on it.
So, how easy is it to get duped on #NeverTrump? Easier than Tinder. The Daily Dot noticed a few red flags in #NeverTrump’s verification process. The app requests Facebook or LinkedIn account details, but doesn’t actually require either. Same with profile photos or a full name. Most serious vote swappers gave their full name on #NeverTrump, but few had profile photos. The #NeverTrump app doesn’t ask if you’re of voting age or even if you’re registered to vote.
Another major red flag is that #NeverTrump app only allows users to self-identify their location; it doesn’t use your iPhone’s location data to verify your location—an added security bonus that even hookup apps like Tinder and Bumble have built in. You might think you’re swapping your vote with a New Hampshire voter, but they could easily be from another state.
The #NeverTrump app does access your location data, but it uses it to put you in a rather useless group where you can interact with vote swappers in your own state. In an email to the Daily Dot, Amit Kumar, the app’s creator, said he decided to avoid verifying with location data in case there were users who were traveling or using absentee ballots.
But such an extra precaution could go a long way—especially in an election where fears of voter suppression and intimidation is already at a high. Some vote swappers immediately brought up the fear that Trump supporters would use the #NeverTrump app to con voters into casting ballots for third-party candidates instead of Clinton.
“How do we trust that Trump followers aren’t using sites like this to trick us?” one vote swapper from Texas asked. Other vote swappers immediately offered suggestions such as taking a ballot selfie, though some noted it’s illegal in certain states like Colorado. Currently, it’s illegal to take a ballot selfie in 16 different states, according to the Associated Press. But a total of 21 states allow for the practice.
Not all vote swappers are equally aware of the dark corners of the internet. One vote swapper asked outright if anyone on #NeverTrump was from 4chan’s infamous /pol/ board, a portal for spreading all sorts of alt-right mischief related to the election.
It quickly became clear that many in the #NeverTrump community were tech-savvy enough to download the app but had never heard of 4chan.
By Friday, a greater awareness of not getting duped seemed to have spread throughout the #NeverTrump community. Vote swappers are offering to take conversations to email to give the other party more assurance. A photo of your ballot along with a copy of the day’s newspaper is one safeguard being pitched on the #NeverTrump app.
By Saturday, the #NeverTrump app had already seen a fair share of trolls and con artists within its groups. The app is being self-policed by a core group of serious vote swappers who are reporting trolls, calling out users for swapping votes twice, and pointing out red flags.
Peter Hanes—a 22-year old nonprofit worker from Montana—told the Daily Dot that he has yet to find a vote swap on #NeverTrump. Two potential vote swappers were not who they said they were when Hanes tried to verify their identity on Facebook.
“The best way to make sure that someone is who they say are is to friend request them on Facebook,” said Hanes in a phone interview with the Daily Dot.
A Trump supporter posing as a Jill Stein supporter tried to con Hanes into swapping his vote. Hanes said he only found out after investigating the potential match’s Facebook profile.
“Two of the things liked were Milo Yiannopoulos and Breitbart,” said Hanes.
Hanes said he was surprised at the app’s lax approach to verifying its users. The bright side is that vote swappers are growing more cautious and beginning to self-enforce.
Hanes said that he was drawn to the #NeverTrump app because, as a resident of a deeply-red state like Montana with its three electoral college votes, he knew his impact was small.
But Hanes said that he felt like he was making a difference with the #NeverTrump app.
“One of the biggest complaints about modern day elections is the feeling of powerlessness. Especially if you live in a safe state,” said Hanes.
On Sunday, Hanes told the Daily Dot he later found a Stein voter in Ohio that appears to be genuine. They have agreed on a swap. “If half the people on this app had the experience I had,” Hanes said, “that will be enough to justify this app’s existence.”