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The country is split along the usual Democrat/Republican fault lines, with a few atypical deviations in who exactly is making up the split. But what's this? Into this flawed picture comes the possibility of setting the stage for real future change by taking advantage of some American electoral idiosyncrasies.

The Setup:

In a nutshell, the President of the United States is not directly elected by the people, but by the states, which each get varying number of "electors" to vote in the Electoral College. Two states of equal population might have a dozen Electoral College votes apiece, but if one is won in a landslide while the other is decided in a nailbiter, the result for the winning candidate is exactly the same. For this reason, candidates often seem to try to invest resources just enough to win the states they need to win -- leading to plenty of nailbiters.

Additionally, the election system in the United States is set up so that past success grant future access to the leaders of the electoral system. There are, variously, minimum vote thresholds which yield to the receiver federal financing, ballot access, and other goodies. This is, naturally, set up for the benefit of the existing "two party" power structure.

Elections in the United States, it is equally important to note, usually fall into one of two categories. First there are the landslides, like the ones Ronald Reagan won in the 1980s, sweeping almost every state on the map. The other are the elections actually decided by only a handful of swing states –- seven or eight states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and New Hampshire which are not reliably for one party or the other, but which tend to be quite close and may shift from one election cycle to the next. In these states votes matter. In states which are not swing states, the possibility of the other party winning the state is slim to the point where no campaigning is even really done there, and the votes of the outgroup are neither sought nor particularly valuable. But to a candidate seeking to upset expectations of reaching a lower voting threshold, these votes are golden.

The Outgroup in the Swing State:

Let us take, for example, California and Texas -- there is no realistic expectation in the short run that the Republican candidate will win in California, nor that the Democratic candidate will win in Texas (although demographic trends point towards a Blue Texas by 2024). If one of these scenarios is happening, it likely signifies a landslide to the extent that these votes aren't even needed for the winner to win. Since the election is decided not by the popular vote, but by the Electoral College, even if every Republican in California voted for the Libertarian candidate, it wouldn't affect the outcome of the election one bit. Likewise, if every last Texas Democrat voted Libertarian, the electoral votes coming out of that state would effectively be unaffected.

This goes on around the United States. If every Republican in Vermont, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, and every Democrat in Wyoming, Alaska, Alabama, and Kansas were to go this way, the outcome of the election would not be altered in the least. But what would change is the two-party monopoly over the next election cycle to come.

Swinging States for Fun and Profit:

But this point we have only been talking about states that are in fact the "safe" states. But wait, there's more.... there is actually an ability as well to game the election a bit in states where the vote would actually matter. A capital example is Utah. Normally Utah is amongst the reddest of the red states. But in this election, due to the controversial nature of the GOP candidate (and the distaste for his politics held by the predominately Mormon population of Utah), this state is far more volatile. Even so, under normal conditions, it would be expected that Donald Trump would win Utah with about 40% of the vote, with Hillary Clinton receiving slightly over a third of the vote, and the last 15-17% going to the Libertarian candidate, Governor Gary Johnson. But what if instead of making a futile effort to win the state for their own candidate, Democrats there simply sought to deny that state to Trump?

Put simply: If every Democrat in Utah voted for Gary Johnson, combined with the level of support which he already enjoys amongst Utah's Libertarians and Libertarian-leaning Republicans, then Johnson would win the state (handily, even), and Trump would have to look elsewhere for that chunk of electoral votes. Naturally this is not just a one-way opportunity. In more Democratic-leaning states like New Mexico and Nevada, if every Republican in those states were to vote for Governor Gary Johnson, then it would be Clinton who would be deprived of those electoral votes. In a close enough race, this could even lead to the political scientist's dearest fantasy, the states hanging the Electoral College.

The Change:

If these scenarios were played out -- red state Democrats and blue state Republicans not wasting a vote on a lost cause, and perhaps some cohorts swinging their state away from the most disfavored option -- the election could yield a fundamental change without any voter voting in a way which would deprive their own preferred candidate of support needed towards actually winning the Electoral College. It is questionable whether this opportunity will be seized, as people often do vote their party line even where another option could possibly help their candidate more. But if enough people in enough states awake to this possibility, this election could do more than simply change the occupant of the Oval Office.

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