Academic journal article The Journal of High Technology Law

Voteauction.net: Protected Political Speech or Treason?

Academic journal article The Journal of High Technology Law

Voteauction.net: Protected Political Speech or Treason?

Article excerpt

"Never has the American political process been so corrupt. No office was too high to purchase, no man too pure to bribe, no principle too sacred to destroy, no law too fundamental to break." (2)

I. INTRODUCTION

Democracy is a combination of vital principles including the freedoms of speech, religion, and the press; an independent judiciary; economic freedoms; a government with checks and balances; and free elections. (3) Free and equal elections are a fundamental foundation of a healthy democracy. (4) When the election system becomes tainted through fraud or undue influence, the other freedoms enjoyed in a democracy become jeopardized. (5) It is the role of the government to ensure the election process remains free from such corruption in order to maintain the legitimacy and integrity of the system.

Voter participation is also necessary to maintain the legitimacy and the integrity of the democratic process. (6) It is estimated that over half of the eligible American voting population turned out to cast their vote in the hotly contested 2000 Presidential Election. (7) These numbers are indicative of the apathetic feelings Americans have towards their political process. (8) In a system where the voter feels money from big business and special interest groups heavily influences the choices of political leaders, the needs of the individual citizens can get lost and ignored. (9)

Through illegal means, the founders of the website www.Voteauction.net (hereinafter "Vote-auction") intend to give control back to the voter. (10) They contend the voter is transformed into a commodity in the electoral system in the United States; bought and sold through advertisement and the media. (11) The designers of the site set out to create a "direct line" from politician to voter, where Voteauction would be the unlawful medium for auctioning off votes for money to the highest bidder. (12)

The creators of Vote-auction looked to the Internet as a new vehicle with which to give the power back to the voters. (13) The Internet proves to be a difficult medium to regulate for federal and state governments for a variety of reasons including jurisdictional issues, difficulty in applying existing statutes to cyberspace, as well as anonymity of website creators. (14) Despite the complexity, legislators need to take action to address the novel ways crimes can be committed over the Internet. (15) If action is not taken, the Internet has the potential to be a springboard for illegal voting activity, such as the purchase and sale of votes. (16)

While endeavors to decrease voter apathy and increase voter turnout are usually commended, the Vote-auction site came under much criticism and legal scrutiny from governmental bodies because it violated both federal and state election laws through its facilitation of the sale of votes. (17) State Attorney Generals and local election officials brought legal action against Vote-auction in the city of Chicago, as well as the states of Missouri, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts. (18) The common cause of action in these suits was the website's illegal buying and selling of votes. (19)

The website's main defense was that the content on the website constituted political free speech, and was therefore protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. (20) Voteauction also argued the buying and selling of votes legally occurred throughout the American democratic, yet capitalistic, system on a large scale in every election, and that practice was protected by the Supreme Court's ruling in Buckley v. Valeo. (21)

While the First Amendment does protect political speech, and the Supreme Court has deemed campaign spending to be constitutional, there are federal and state laws in every state in the nation that specifically prohibit the purchase, sale, or influence of votes. (22) These statutes are in place to ensure and protect free and equal elections. …

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