Too late to sell out
California Secretary of State Bill Jones warned voters in August that it’s a felony to sell their votes through Internet sites such as voteauction.com, but his office seemed powerless to stop the site, which was located in Europe and guaranteed anonymity to vote buyers and sellers.
That changed last week. Jones held a press conference on Monday, Oct. 16, warning that his office was aggressively seeking to shut down the site, which was boasting of the 1,836 Californians and 15,128 voters nationwide that had offered their votes for sale. Later that day, voteauction.com announced that “bidding has been cancelled” in California, New York and Illinois.
The next day, Jones said, “The company’s decision to suspend the bidding for votes in selected states is not enough. Voteauction.com must be shut down immediately, and the individuals who offered to buy or sell votes through the site must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
His first demand is exactly what happened that same day, when a federal judge in Illinois granted the Chicago Board of Elections a temporary restraining order that shut down the voteauction.com site.
Yet voteauction.com founder James Baumgartner and current owner Hans Bernhard are fighting back. They have counter-sued and reopened the site under a slightly different name, vote-auction.com (www.vote-auction.com), registering under a European registry that is for now beyond the reach of American courts.
“We will keep on focusing on the American election until mid-November this year,” Vote-auction.com declared in a press release.
A trial in the Illinois case is set to begin Oct. 30. Meanwhile, Jones’ office continues to explore ways to shut down vote-buying operations and to obtain the names of Californians who have offered to sell votes on voteauction.com.
“To buy or sell your vote is a felony,” points out Jones spokeswoman Beth Miller.
While Jones intends to prosecute Californians who have engaged in vote buying and selling, that will likely require getting those names from voteauction.com. And operators of the site defend their actions on free speech grounds and say that providing a forum for vote-auctioning is not a crime. Election officials disagree.
“We are pursuing additional steps to shut them down, and we do have an active criminal investigation,” Miller said. “This is uncharted territory, and our legal office is pursuing all possible channels.”