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Website offers auction 2000 presidential votes

October 26, 2000
By: Lauren Shepherd
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - More than 560 self-described Missourians have offered to sell their November presidential vote to the highest bidder -- using a foreign-based WWW service that seeks to skirt laws making vote-selling illegal.

A website operating out of Vienna, Austria-- www.vote-auction.com -- is offering to buy and sell votes on the web for the 2000 presidential race. Individuals register on a site, giving their name, address, and demographic information that the site claims will remain confidential. By registering on the site, the vote-seller becomes part of a vote-block from their state. The votes then will be sold to the highest bidder on Nov. 7.

Once a bidder -- a corporation or an individual -- wins the vote block, they contact each voter with instructions for who to vote for in the election.

Currently, 21,079 people have registered with the site -- 561 claiming to be from Missouri.

How much each person gets will depend on the size of the highest bid for each state's block of votes.

The highest bid so far for the state's votes is $8,701 -- that would provide $10.62 to each Missourian. The WWW organizers refuse to identify either the bidders or the names of those who have offered to sell their votes.

"This speaks and reaks of voter fraud," said Attorney General Jay Nixon, who said he had not now about the WWW site until this report. "These are not auctions. These are elections."

Federal law and Missouri state law both prohibit the sale of votes in an election. Nixon said he would "use the full power of the office" to investigate the site and shut it down if there is any evidence that votes in Missouri have been sold or bought -- an action already in the works in Illinois.

Based on other cases, Nixon said Missouri could take legal action against a foreign-based WWW service if an illegal act is committed through a computer connected to the site from Missouri.

Earlier this month, the Chicago Board of Election filed a complaint with the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois to have the site shut down. Then, though, the site was called www.voteauction.com. Although the court issued a temporary restraining order against the site, a final decision was not made. The site then changed its name to include the hyphen so that it could continue business.

A hearing will be held on October 30 to determine whether the website should be permanently shut down.

According to an October 22 press release published on the site, the court has ordered that all registered user data be handed over to authorities who could sue users for voter fraud. The company, though, states that they will protect all user data and keep it confidential.

Despite the legal challenge in Illinois and threatened suits in several other states, including Massachusetts, California and Nebraska, Liz Vlx, CEO of UBERMORGEN.COM based in Austria -- the holding company for the website -- wrote in an e-mail response to questions that she sees nothing wrong with the website.

"We provide an open-market platform for bidders and sellers," Vlx wrote. "We do not consider our work to be of illegal or criminal nature.

Vlx said she doesn't think the website will have much of an effect on this year's presidential election.

"I doubt very much that we can influence the elections, as we just do not have enough users for a purpose like that," she said.

She added that providing the auction service shouldn't be a problem in a democracy like America.

"Coming from Europe, where the buying of votes is legal in the first place, it seems strange that a democracy does not allow for the free exchange of votes," she said.

On the website, the company claims the auctioning of votes is protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment, saying "freedom of spending and freedom of speech are central components of our capitalist democracy."

Deborah Phillips, president of the nonprofit Voting Integrity Project in Arlington, Virginia, called the auction site "outright illegal."

"This violates every state and federal election law," Phillips said. "These people are very slithery."