ACLU returns to court on behalf of vote Web sites

The Associated Press
Tuesday November 28, 2000

LOS ANGELES — A civil rights group has returned to federal court in an attempt to stop Secretary of State Bill Jones from shutting down future vote-swapping Web sites. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California failed earlier this month to gain a temporary restraining order against Jones.  

The group pledged to appeal and filed an amended complaint Monday seeking a permanent injunction. 

U.S. District Judge Robert Kelleher on Nov. 6 denied the ACLU’s request in a one-sentence ruling. 

In addition to a permanent injunction, the amended complaint seeks damages for Web site operators by claiming their Constitutional rights were violated and likely would be violated in future elections. 

The sites appeared before the Nov. 7 election as Web site operators in several states tried to create a system to allow users in one state to trade their vote for president to someone in another state.  

Many of the sites were aimed at supporters of Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who was seen as a threat to siphon votes from Democrat Al Gore in states where the race was expected to be close. 

Three sites voluntarily shut down before the election after Jones told one it was violating state election laws. Officials in Oregon also issued similar warnings. 

Some states, however, took no action against the sites. 

“The razor’s edge margins in this election make crystal clear that every vote counts,” said ACLU staff attorney Peter Eliasberg in a statement.  

“A few hundred votes here or a thousand there could have changed the course of this election. Voter-matching sites give individuals the tools to help ensure that their voices are truly heard and their interests are fully represented.” 

A spokesman for Jones said the federal court likely would deny the permanent injunction request. 

“The court refused the ACLU’s request to allow vote swapping prior to the election and we expect the court will reject this request,” said spokesman Alfie Charles.  

“The vote is the foundation of the democratic process. It can’t be bought sold or traded for anything of value, including someone else’s vote. I think the court will agree with our interpretation of state law and the constitutionality of that law.”