Published on Tuesday, October 31, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle
California Shuts Down Vote-Trader Web Site
Secretary of state calls such swaps illegal
by Lynda Gledhill
 
California election officials shut down a Web site late yesterday that allowed people to trade their votes over the Internet.

In the past few days, several sites popped up that were designed to allow supporters of presidential candidates Al Gore and Ralph Nader to trade votes.

One site, started by a Los Angeles Web designer, was taken down last night after the secretary of state's office said it was illegal.

Secretary of State Bill Jones said earlier yesterday that any ``inducement'' to vote a certain way is considered illegal under California law.

The idea behind vote swapping is that voters in battleground states who would like to vote for Green Party candidate Nader, but are worried that could cost Democrat Gore the overall election, can switch their vote with someone in a state that is already solidly for Gore or Republican candidate George W. Bush.

The vote-swap Web pages started after an article suggested that voters in different states could swap their votes and hopefully accomplish two goals

--electing Gore president and getting Nader 5 percentage points, the threshold needed for the Green Party to get federal matching funds in the 2004 presidential election.

``So my friend in Austin, where Bush is going to win, will vote for Nader instead of Gore, and I can vote for Gore here in Wisconsin, where the race is very close,'' said Jeff Cardille, a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who first posted the idea on the Internet.

While the site registered by Cardille only outlines the idea, Los Angeles resident Jim Cody set up a site that allowed people to make contact with others who are interested in the idea.

Cody's site was started Thursday, and before it was taken down it had already claimed more than 4,700 traded votes.

William Wood, chief counsel for the office of the secretary of state, said yesterday morning that trading for anything valuable is illegal.

``In this case, the valuable consideration would be the vote itself,'' he said. ``The vote is an inalienable, fundamental legal concept throughout the country. Certainly in California, we take that very seriously.''

Wood said other states have similar laws, but would not confirm that California is working with them.

Representatives of the secretary of state's offices in Missouri and Texas, two states where there has been a lot of swapping activity, also said the trading is illegal under their laws.

A spokesman for the secretary of state's office, Alfie Charles, said Cody contacted Wood at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday to say he would take the site down.

Cody said last night that he has not decided whether to pursue the matter.

``I don't think the people who wrote the law foresaw anything like this,'' he said.

Earlier in the day, he said he has maintained e-mail addresses of everyone involved so that they can be contacted and told not to proceed.

``We're requiring people who sign up to make their e-mail address available,'' he said. ``People can then contact each other directly. If they decide they don't feel right about it and don't want to do it, they can come back and say they have changed their mind.''

Charles said the investigation is continuing and could not say if criminal charges would be pursued.

Earlier this month, a Web site that offered to buy votes moved its domain out of the country. An Illinois court issued an injunction Oct. 18 against the site, which collects the names of registered voters willing to sell their votes for president.

2000 San Francisco Chronicle

###