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Vote trading is the practice of supporting someone else's initiative in exchange for their support of one's own initiative. It frequently takes place in legislative bodies. An example would be Congressman A voting for a dam in Congressman B's district in exchange for Congressman B's support for farm subsidies in Congressman A's district. One of the first examples of vote trading to occur in the United States was the Compromise of 1790, in which Thomas Jefferson made a deal with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton to move the capital from New York to a site along the Potomac (after a lengthy stay in Philadelphia) in exchange for federal assumption of debts incurred by the states in the Revolutionary War. There are many proposals to streamline the legislative vote trading process by creating a market brokered by party leaders in which members buy and sell votes at prices set by supply and demand. Hindrances to vote trading in the U.S. Congress include its bicameral structure and the geographic representation basis of its members. Vote trading is encouraged, however, by Congress's relatively loose party discipline which facilitates policy cross-overs by individual congressmen, in sharp contrast to European countries.

Corporate vote trading has been proposed as a way of improving corporate governance. In this context, vote trading refers to borrowing shares of a stock in time to be the shareholder of record on the day of an important vote.

Members of the electorate can also engage in a vote trading variant called vote pairing; an example is the strategic voting facilitated by VotePair in which third party supporters in swing states agree to vote for a more centrist major party candidate in exchange for citizens in "safe" states voting for the third party candidate. The idea is to defeat the spoiler effect.

Ethical considerations Edit

The Limits of Public Choice: A Sociological Critique of the Economic Theory notes that vote trading is often considered immoral, since votes are to be determined on the basis of the merits of the question. It is viewed as being less serious an offense than bribery, although in some countries it is still unlawful. However, vote-trading can also be viewed as beneficial to democracy in that it makes it possible for minorities to exert some influence and thus alleviate the tyranny of the majority. In this way, vote-trading is similar to coalition-building, which also involves an exchange of policies and bargaining over cabinet positions in order to gain the parliamentary majority needed for approval of the entire program.

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