Bioethics Blogs

Vote Selling Versus Vote Swapping

Joseph Bowen (@joe_bowen_1)

Lets begin with a pair of cases:

Pub Swap. Suppose Ann endorses Political Party A and Ben endorses Political Party B. Both would place Party C as their last choice. Ann lives in constituency 1 and Ben lives in constituency 2. In constituency 1 there is a close race between Party B and Party C. In constituency 2 there is a close race between Party A and Party C. Sitting in the pub the night before the election, Ann and Ben decide to vote for each others respective parties in their own constituency.

Votes for Beer. Suppose Carl endorses Political Party A and Dana endorses Political Party B. Carl lives in constituency 3 and Dana lives in constituency 4. In constituency 3, Party A is certain to win. In constituency 4, there is a close race between Party A and Party C—Party B cannot win. Sitting in the pub the night before the election, Carl offers to buy Dana five pints in exchange for her voting for Party A.

Is there a difference between Pub Swap and Votes for Beer? Generally, we take vote selling to be wrong—but what about vote swapping? Before the general election back in May, there cropped up a vote swap between Labour and Green supporters. The explicit idea was to ‘swap votes to keep out the Tories’ (http://voteswap.org). Because of our first-past-the-post system voters can often be torn between (i) voting for a candidate or party they want, but that has little chance of winning, and  (ii) tactically voting for a different candidate or party that they would prefer, were their first choice not to win.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.