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Voteauction Booth is Closed
by Mark K. Anderson

2:00 a.m. Oct. 21, 2000 PDT

After two months of going up and down and back up again, is taking no more bidders. And this time, actually, that may be for good.

Following a preliminary injunction issued on Wednesday by the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, the Austrian-based site -- purporting to sell presidential votes to the highest bidder -- has closed its doors.

See also:
Chicago to Sue Vote Auctioneers
Thousands Sign Up to Sell Votes
Austrian Takes Bids on U.S. Votes
Close Vote? You Can Bid On It

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners sued the creator and current owner on Monday, alleging the site trafficked in the buying and selling of votes.

The graduate student who began the vote-fraud saga in August also revealed that it's been cooking its books all along. James Baumgartner sold the site to an Austrian entrepreneur later that month, but has continued to provide content for the site and consult with the owner.

"The numbers were highly exaggerated ... to increase the hyperbole of the site," said Baumgartner, an MFA student in upstate New York.

The number of voters who have requested to sell their votes -- last reported on the site at over 15,000 -- was actually "somewhere between one- and 3,000," Baumgartner said.

And the bids, he said, were nil. The site had boasted almost $200,000 in offers. In fact, Baumgartner said, there were never any bids.

Most important, he said, neither he nor Austrian owner Hans Bernhard -- who declined comment when contacted Friday -- ever intended to go through with actually trafficking the votes bought and sold.

"It was never my intent to sell votes," Baumgartner said. "And it was clear when I was setting it up with Hans that he and I had the same principles in mind. We were both doing this as a political satire or media intervention kind of thing."

That may be so, but it apparently doesn't have much sway with the folks in Chicago.

"We've said from the beginning that they may think it's a parody," said Tom Leach of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. "But we don't think it's funny.... If I'm going on an airplane and yelling fire even if there's no fire, it's still a federal crime."

Now that the Chicago board has obtained the temporary order to shut down Voteauction, Leach said his team still plans to continue pursuing its lawsuit. They seek both a permanent injunction against Baumgartner, Bernhard et. al. from continuing any such vote-fraud -- whether practiced on Voteauction or elsewhere, whether a hoax or not -- and to recoup the attorneys' fees spent in investigating and litigating Voteauction.

Baumgartner, one of the defendants named in the lawsuit, said he had two main prototypes in mind when he created Voteauction.

First, he pointed to the recent hoax website, which inspired hundreds of news stories over a virtual venue that allegedly offered to sell the eggs and sperm of fashion models to facilitate "Darwin's natural selection at its very best."

"The news organizations that interviewed (the Ronsangels operator) didn't want to reveal later that it wasn't for real," Baumgartner said. "But what he did was help generate a great deal of discussion over the issue."

Second, Baumgartner took a few pointers from perhaps the most talked-about and imitated piece of satire in Western history -- Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal."

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