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Tens of Thousands Expected to ‘Vote Swap’ as Brits Forced to Game the Voting System

Voters are about to hack First Past the Post on an epic scale

Media personality Carol Vorderman is a major backer of Movement Forward tools like Stop the Tories and Swap My Vote. Photo: Mark Thomas/Alamy Live News Contributor: Mark Thomas / Alamy Stock Photo

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With some votes counting for more than others, people across the UK are taking matters into their own hands on Thursday to boost their voting power. 

Tens of thousands of Brits are expected to “swap” their votes with backers of other parties on Thursday, to maximise their impact. 

The tactic, spearheaded by the grassroots organisation Swap My Vote, gives more people a chance to vote tactically to boot out the Conservatives – while also allowing their first-choice party to receive a vote. 

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Founded by digital strategist Tom de Grunwald, Swap My Vote sees voters in different constituencies pair up and agree to cast their ballots for each other’s preferred parties. This allows them to vote tactically while still supporting the party they believe in.

For example, a Labour voter in a safe seat could offer to vote Green, in exchange for a Green supporter voting for the Labour party in a Labour-Conservative swing seat voting. In both cases it avoids the Conservatives “slipping in” through the cracks in the constituency where there’s a tight race. 

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“We’ve got thousands of people involved. It’s really exciting,” de Grunwald told Byline Times. “We’re doing really well, considering we’re basically all volunteers.”

The surge in vote swapping comes amid a wider rise in tactical voting this election, to unseat Conservatives even in the party’s heartlands. Several tactical voting sites have seen surges in activity, including Best for Britain’s GetVoting.org, which aims to unseat Conservatives, and Stop The Tories.

The latter is backed by presenter and commentator Carol Vorderman, and is run by the Movement Forward team which runs Swap My Vote. 

Other tactical voting sites include tacticalvote.co.uk and tactical.vote. 

Sometimes these sites conflict. For example, tacticalvote.co.uk backs “Any” party to stop the Conservatives in Green-target Bristol Central. GetVoting.org backs a Labour vote, while tactical.vote backs the Green Party, saying: “There is no risk of a Tory win.” Stop The Tories backs a Labour or Green vote. 

Many voters feel that their votes are essentially wasted if they don’t back one of the two main parties in many areas. 

“Up to 45% of people have been quoted as considering tactical voting,” de Grunwald notes. “What Swap My Vote can do is help some of those people who are wavering about tactical voting” – by knowing that someone will vote for their first choice party, effectively on their behalf, in a “safer” seat where there’s less chance of the Conservatives slipping through the net. “We can hold people’s hands, and soften the pain of having to vote tactically,” de Grunwald adds.

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“We’re a non-partisan platform. However, almost all our users are on the progressive side,” de Grunwald says, pointing out that the group’s intent is to highlight the need for a fairer voting system.

Green supporters are pairing up with Labour voters, while Lib Dem and Labour supporters are also swapping votes in key constituencies. One limitation, de Grunwald explains, is the lack of Green party target seats – there are just four, but there is pressure there for Lib Dem and Labour voters to get behind the party. “Unfortunately Swap My Vote is not a magic bullet. We still have to operate within this very distorting system.”

For de Grunwald and his team, vote swapping is about more than just tactical voting – it’s about keeping the conversation about electoral reform alive: “For anyone using Swap My Vote, whether explicitly or not, it’s always a vote for PR.”

The hope is that this surge in tactical voting will come alongside a groundswell of support for electoral reform, to push the issue up the political agenda. “We are not going to just stop after the election. The election is the beginning, not the end,” de Grunwald insists.

The ultimate aim, he explained, is to make Swap My Vote redundant. “We don’t want to have to run any of these projects in the next election. We want people’s votes to be heard without this distorting system.”

In the meantime, Swap My Vote is focusing on getting as many people involved as possible. The organisation’s mailing list, shared with partner groups Movement Forward and Stop the Tories, consists of around 200,000 supporters, and tens of thousands of people are expected to use the various tools on offer. 

But there may be lessons coming from history. During the 1997 election, proportional representation was on the agenda, with a resurgent Liberal Democrats pressing the issue with incoming Labour PM Tony Blair.

But Labour, giddy with the scale of its landslide, thought that having an overwhelming majority was perhaps worth holding on to. This election, riding high in the polls, Keir Starmer appears to have already ruled out backing proportional representation before polling day. 

But by taking matters into their own hands, these activists are hacking a voting system they say is is in desperate need of an upgrade. 

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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