Voteauction Bids the Dust
by Mark K. Anderson

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8:20 a.m. Aug. 22, 2000 PDT

Voteauction.com, which attempted to sell presidential votes to the highest bidder, is no more.

Quietly operating since the beginning of August, the site posed a simple question: If entire elections can be bought and sold to the individual or corporation with the most money, why can't individual votes?

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Last week, Voteauction received a spate of publicity that began with a Wired News story. Two days of intense press and Internet attention followed, which concluded in legal threats that compelled its operator to shut it down.

"I acted immediately when I found out about [Voteauction]," said Doug Kellner, one of two Manhattan representatives on the New York City Board of Elections.

Kellner said selling votes is not only illegal within New York state law, but the state constitution also bars it. The only other crime the constitution defines, he said, is treason.

Before last week, Voteauction had received emails from five voters indicating their interest in selling their votes. When it shut down on Aug. 18, Baumgartner said, an estimated 200 had expressed their initial interest in participating. Although no contracts had been signed -- legal language was still being worked out when the site was shut down -- the interests of potential participants ranged from the pecuniary to the polemic.

"Some were doing it as a joke, some were serious, some were cynical, some were sincere," Baumgartner said. "Somebody else said they were going to buy voterauction.com."

When visited on Monday afternoon, Voterauction.com -- with the extra "r" -- appeared to be a mirror of the George W. Bush campaign website. Although given the history of web-based satire inspired by the Texas governor's presidential bid, one can never be sure.

Kellner stressed the seriousness of the criminal consequences for those who even indicate their interest in buying or selling a vote.

"The message to get out to the public is that posting (intent to sell votes) to a website even in jest is a serious matter. It could subject you to prosecution, or in New York you could forfeit your vote," Kellner said, referring to a New York state law that imposes a one-year forfeiture on vote buyers and sellers.

Baumgartner, who continues to stress that his site holds a mirror up to a larger corrupt electoral system, offered no comment in response to Kellner's charges.

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