Chicago to Sue Vote Auctioneers
by Mark K. Anderson

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2:50 p.m. Oct. 12, 2000 PDT

Finding 1,131 of Illinois' presidential votes up on the virtual auction block, election officials in Chicago are expected to file a lawsuit Friday against the website Voteauction.com.

The court action attempts to obtain a cease and desist order against any buying or selling of votes -- Voteauction's unique and illegal niche of e-commerce -- within Chicago's jurisdiction.

See also:
• Thousands Sign Up to Sell Votes
• Austrian Takes Bids on U.S. Votes
• Voteauction Bites the Dust
• Close Vote? You Can Bid On It

"We continue to have many investigators out there trying to locate the gentleman responsible in Vienna, Austria and then determine how we might bring him under jurisdiction of the Illinois courts," said Langdon Neal, chairman of Chicago's Board of Election Commissioners.

Such actions are, of course, easier said than done. Voteauction is run by an Austrian company and its website's server is, according to Voteauction's chief investor Hans Bernhard, somewhere in Bulgaria.

Neal countered that any court order arising from the lawsuit could be enforceable since he had information that part of Voteauction is being run via servers in Maryland -- a charge that Bernhard denies.

"I don't even know about i t yet," Bernhard said of the lawsuit. "I have some indirect information that Chicago is going out to the press. But we did not receive anything legal. No official documents, no contact."

He added, however, that Voteauction recently did receive an official cease and desist letter from California's secretary of state, where 1,836 presidential votes are reportedly currently up for auction.

"To be honest we don't see a problem at the moment," Bernhard said. "The only point where there is a possibility to do something is towards the voters who sell their votes. But we don't give out this information."

Begun in August by a graduate student in upstate New York developing the site for his master of fine arts thesis, Voteauction had previously received one legal threat. At the time, the site was being run stateside and was thus readily subject to enforcement actions by American prosecutors and electoral boards.

When New York City's board of elections filed its cease and desist letter with Voteauction on Aug. 18, the site was shut down before the end of the day.

However, when Bernhard bought the site and moved it offshore, he simply removed New York state from the bidding but continued to trade in presidential votes for the other 49 states.

And now, according to the tallies on Voteauction, over 15,000 Americans have offered up their vote for sale, with $170,600 in winning bids registered so far.

"You wonder what soldiers who died to preserve our right to vote in a democracy would think about citizens willing to sell their vote for $10 to $20," said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia professor who studies corruption in American politics.

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