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CountMore - Strategic Battleground Voting for Students

BY Michael Connery | Monday, September 22 2008

As we come up on voter registration deadlines, a lot of students may be asking themselves, "where should I vote?" Unlike the rest of us, college students have the luxury of deciding whether they would prefer to vote at school or in their home states.

As we all know, not all states are created equally in our elections. Battleground states like Colorado, New Mexico, and Ohio will carry much more weight in deciding the outcome of this election than "safe" red or blue states like New York, California, or Utah. In cases where a student lives in a safe state but attends school in a swing state, or vice-versa, deciding where to cast a ballot is a no-brainer: pick the swing state. But what if you have a choice between two different battleground states? In that instance, it's a little harder to know what to do.

A new website - CountMore - hopes to help students make that choice.

CountMore

Created by Front Seat, a civic software company out of Seattle, CountMore offers a simple solution to help students decide where best to cast their ballot. All the student needs to do is go to the CountMore website and select their home state and school state from two drop down menus. The site's algorithm then uses previous election results, current polling data, and the number of electoral votes in play to rank the importance of each state and determine where the student's ballot can have the greatest impact.

Here's a closer look at how CountMore makes those decisions:

How do we decide which states count more? First, we categorize states into the following tiers:

  1. Critical Tipping Point State: States that the non-partisan polling website FiveThirtyEight.com identifies as "Tipping Point States" that are more than 40% likely to tip the election. These states are currently: Ohio and Colorado
  2. Tipping Point State: States that the non-partisan polling website FiveThirtyEight.com identifies as "Tipping Point States" that are more than 10% likely to tip the election. These states are currently:Virginia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida.
  3. Margin < 5%: States where pollster.com is reporting less than 5% polling difference or the 2004 election margin was less than than 5%. These states are currently: Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
  4. Margin < 10%: States where pollster.com is reporting less than 10% polling difference or the 2004 election margin was less than than 10%. These states are currently: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Jersey, and Washington.
  5. All other states.

Then, our algorithm compares the two states and recommends the state in the highest tier. In the case of a tie, we declare a toss up.

Note: Algorithm data was last sampled on 9/19/2008 and may change over time.

This is not the first site to attempt to optimize the effectiveness of people's ballots. In 2000, websites like Nader Trader, VoteSwap and VoteExchange attempted to let people in "safe" states voting for Gore swap their votes with citizens in battleground states voting for Nader. That way, Gore could rack up votes in swing states that would have otherwise gone to Nader, and Nader could shoot for his 5% margin (which would have guaranteed the Green Party federal funds in the next election) through votes in dark red and dark blue states that would not influence the election's outcome.

While such sites were not illegal in 2000, many claimed they were unethical. For students and organizers holding such qualms about CountMore, the group's website has compiled an extensive FAQ running down the merits and ethics of strategic voting, as well as general questions students may have about voting deadlines and registration problems in general (such as those plaguing Virginia students).

Obviously the vote trading sites of 2000 weren't enough to tip the election in Florida, and it's not at all clear that CountMore could be any more effective. To do so would require massive exposure in a very short amount of time (voter registration deadlines are rapidly approaching). But in an election season in which young voters are paying and unprecedented amount of attention, it's not at all improbable that CountMore could, at the very least, help some of those young voters make a more informed choice about how most effectively to wield their vote on November 4th.

Cross-posted from Future Majority.

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