Nader-trading is legal!

Excellent news: A U.S. appeal court ruled that “Nader Trading” is legal. As you may recall, the “Nader Trader” phenomenon erupted during the last election. There were people who wanted to voted for Nader, but were terrified that if they did so, Gore might lose to Bush in their state. So a few voter nerds created web sites —,, and — to do vote-swapping. If someone wanted to vote for Nader in state “A” where Gore was in danger, she’d use the site to locate a Gore supporter in “B”, a Gore-safe state. The Gore supporter in “B” would vote for Nader safely, in exchange for the voter in state “A” promising to vote for Gore. Presto: Gore gets elected, and Nader gets enough votes to turn the Greens into a funded federal party.

In theory. In reality, of course, Gore (and Clinton) botched the election so horribly that Gore lost his own damn state. And brain-dead liberals went on to blame Nader for Gore’s loss. He lost his own state, people! Anyway … the point is, California’s secretary of state claimed the trading sites were perverting democracy, and tried to get shut down. The ACLU fought back, the U.S. appeal court agreed: The sites can stay.

Which is as it ought to be. What was at stake here wasn’t just a quirky attempt to get Nader elected. It was a fascinating evolution of how voter coalitions emerge and self-organize. Vote-swapping is a glimpse at the weird new ways democracies will comport themselves in an age when everyday citizens can organize not just locally, but nationally. It was, in essence, a smart-mob phenomenon. “Smart mobs,” writes Howard Rheingold in his book that named the trend, “consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don’t know each other.” Precisely what vote-trading does, in a way that probably would have cracked up — and thrilled — the guys who wrote the constitution.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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