Your vote could be worth cash.
At least three people recently tried to auction off their votes in November’s presidential election to the highest bidder on eBay. In upstate New York, a site called voteauction.com is trying to be even more audacious, selling blocks of votes to interest groups who want to influence the election.
There’s only one problem: it’s illegal. Buying and selling votes in North America has been illegal since the 1680s, electoral historian Bob Murch said.
“Buying votes has been a crime ever since people started having elections. It was a crime in the Roman republic,” he said.
The owner of voteauction.com, James Baumgartner, a graduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., insists that he’s for real.
Court cases have proved, he argues, that in elections, “money is free speech. Corporations or individuals are … influencing voters with their money. Voteauction.com is a more direct method of doing that,” he said.
As a satire on the political system, the vote-sellers get their points across, said Susan Quatrone of political reform advocacy group Common Cause.
“The idea that the American voters’ choices are basically auctioned off to the highest bidders through the soft money system is very true. I like direct, honest satire that cuts through the rhetoric which tries to pretend this system is clean,” she said.
Wanna Buy a Vote?
The votes on eBay appeared for sale on Wednesday and Thursday, spokesman Kevin Pursglove said, and were taken down when a user noticed them and complained.
The auction site, which handles more than 50 million listings every three months, takes down illegal auctions when told about them — in the past people have tried to auction off things like “the dolphin which found Elian [Gonzalez] at sea” and a young man’s virginity.
One of the votes got up to $122 before getting knocked out.
Voteauction.com is a bit more complicated than the one-seller, one-buyer votes on eBay. Apathetic voters theoretically give their votes to the site, which then auctions them off in blocks, state by state, to corporations or individuals.
Voters would order absentee ballots, fill them out based on Voteauction’s recommendation, and then send them to Baumgartner for verification before he sends them to polling places. The voters would get cash; Baumgartner gets revenues from banner ads placed on his site.
“The election industry is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in an attempt to influence the presidential election. This system is an inefficient waste of money for the candidates and their supporters. Voteauction.com is committed to improving this system by bringing the campaign contributors’ money directly to the voters,” the site says.
As of this afternoon, 200 people had signed up with voteauction.com, according to Baumgartner. Earlier this week, votes were going for up to $50 apiece. Four “interested individuals” — not candidates — had applied to buy some of the votes, Baumgartner said. He plans to close his auction two weeks before the election.
That is, if he isn’t arrested. Any attempt at buying or selling individual votes is criminal, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
“Anyone who’s going to be in a position to buy probably has a lawyer who’s going to hit the roof at the very thought of it,” Murch said.