conditional voting

As I write this, it’s July of an election year. The election is in November. The debate is in full swing: vote Hillary? Vote third party? Vote Trump? And people keep talking as if it’s an urgent decision. It’s not.

I live in Illinois. Illinois is not  a swing state. But people still say things like ‘You have to vote Hillary. It’s too risky to vote third party. A third party vote is a vote for Trump!’ Maybe… in Florida. Here in deep blue-state Illinois, not so much.

So this is what I have decided: if the polls in Illinois the week before the election are within 2%, I am voting Hillary. Otherwise I will vote third party, probably Green Party.

Two percent is an unlikely margin in Illinois. It’s pretty close. But it’s not a bad balance between my desire for a farther left candidate and my fear of a President Cheeto Jesus. Others might pick a different margin, but 2% feels safe to me.

That way, I can push things left in my small way. I can register my support for positions left of the Democratic Party. And I can vote against the two party system, if appropriate. I can, at the same time, hedge against the risk of a truly unacceptable candidate by delaying my decision.

If enough other people commit this way, conditionally and publicly, then we can see each other’s positions, and identify with coalitions outside the two party system that are masked by the fear in the debate. Voting third party could go from a futile gesture to a much more viable choice.

It’s often said that votes don’t matter outside swing states. This is a way to make non-swing state votes count. If enough people were to make this kind of commitment, it could permanently destabilize the two party system. Which I would be perfectly happy with.

You could think of it as adding a runoff vote ahead of the actual vote.

The rub

But if this strategy wins enough states to cause no one to reach 270 electoral college votes, that will dump the election in the House of Representatives, and they can pick whoever they want. Which I do have a big problem with… now. I suspect they wouldn’t select Trump, but they’re not likely to select someone I like. If the Democrats take back the House, it would be less of a problem, for me.

I don’t think that’s a big risk in the near term. I could see it happening during a long term transition to a better democratic form. It would be good pressure to reform the way we vote, and move to better forms of voting, like instant runoff voting.

My Hyperloop moment

I have a job. I am quite busy. Not as busy as Elon Musk, but busy enough for me.

So… conditional and public commitment. Sounds like a website, maybe with Facebook integration. Tracking voters, with their preferred and backup candidates, and the margin at which they’ll flip. Give people a login, let them come back and change their position. And create views of the different states and the aggregate choices folks have made. Maybe integrate with polling data. Send out alerts. And scale.




  1. You approach to voting according to the prospects of getting what you want is interesting …. except it doesn’t show support for what you Really want. How does it apply to voting for Senator? Realizing that Presidents usually only manage to get laws passed in support of a portion of their party platform, I think it is best to stick to the old fashioned idea of voting for what you want.

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