Vote auction site changes its name

The Associated Press
Friday October 27, 2000

SACRAMENTO — A Web site offering to sell 21,000 votes for president to the highest bidder has changed its domain name and switched its registrar to a company based in Germany. 

Federal and state laws prohibit the sale of votes, but the Austrian owners of www.vote-auction.com denied they had moved operations overseas to avoid legal challenges. 

Instead, investor Hans Bernhard wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press, research showed that users frequently tried to type the new name of the site instead of the old name, which lacked the hyphen. 

The site asks voters to fill out personal details and then offers to sell the votes – in blocks broken down by state – to the highest bidder. The technique, the Web site says, brings the “big money of campaigns directly to the voting public.” 

The site offers to deliver the votes to any corporation or individual, but it hasn’t identified voters, bidders or said when the sale will end. 

The owners say the U.S. vote auction is a test to determine how they can make money. They still need to work out how voters would be paid and how to verify that they cast the right ballot. 

Election officials in Michigan and New York have criticized the scheme and a court challenge in Illinois led to the closing of the old site. California Secretary of State Bill Jones warned any vote sellers they could face felony charges and a minimum of three years in prison. 

The site was reopened this week with the help of CSL Computer Service of Germany. By Thursday, more than 2,500 California voters had offered their votes and the leading bid was $48,000 or $19.61 per vote. 

“Truthfully, this could probably go on forever, so long as it is known by those who wish to use the service, for lack of a better term,” said Steve Jones, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who follows the Internet. 

Shad Balch, a spokesman for California’s secretary of state, said the domain name change would not affect California’s investigation into the site and its employees. 

Industry experts say it would be almost impossible to identify voters by using technology. 

“There is virtually no legal way to check who is using the site without a subpoena or warrant, which is unlikely when the operations are international,” said Stewart Farley of Internet Products Inc., a San Diego company that makes Web-filtering products.