Vote buying and selling — the American way


Expanded from the 10-29-00 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

People are showing up at early voting locations in droves.

Zounds. If this keeps up, democracy may break out.

It just shows what a drudge citizenship has become when such an obvious and harmless concept becomes big news.

I recently got wind of a much more radical idea that's actually about 20 years past due. No, not Internet voting and totally-postal balloting, both of which are going on in various places this year.

I'm talking about going back to the future — unabashed vote-selling and buying. I don't favor some skullduggerous practice whereby the recently departed somehow manage to punch the button by absentee ballot from the mausoleum.

I'm talking about the heart of the free enterprise system. Let the open market rule. Ronald Reaganesque Lazy Fair. Let's make a market in votes. For money and power.

It's a threat to the established order and I can prove it.

Some entrepreneurs in Chicago (it figures) set up a website called VoteAuction.com. I don't know if it was a put-on or if they were actually serious about selling votes E-Bay style, but they sure scored a lot of attention.

And they got busted. Sued. Even their Internet service provider (ISP) was named in legal action taken by Illinois authorities.

"My deepest admiration and thanks to the Chicago Board of Elections for achieving a temporary injunction to shut down the VoteAuction.com site which was trafficing (sic) in American votes," said Voting Integrity Project spokeswoman Deborah Phillips from Arlington, Virginia. (I am always suspicious of anything and everyone from Arlington, home to the world's heaviest infestations of lobbyists and nefarious front groups.)

"VoteAuction.com is owned by an Austrian businessman and run on a Bulgarian ISP and was busily (and cynically) building a commercial site to aid and abet the development of a true Manchurian presidential candidate in races future," Ms Phillips stated.

"Thanks to the Chicago Board of Elections for exercising REAL leadership in using its position to do what begged to be done -- shut this obscenity down!" she cybernetically exclaimed.

I felt compelled to respond.

"Dear Ms. Phillips: This proposal is neither incredible nor original. CNN commentator Jeff Greenfield concluded his book 'Playing to Win -- An Insider's Guide to Politics' (Simon and Schuster, 1980) with just such an idea.

"'Let us sell our votes to each other,' he wrote in the final chapter entitled 'How to Make Things Better.'"

Greenfield presented the point semi-tongue-in-cheek. Fast-forward 20 years and it makes eminent sense. He basically anticipated what sports fans would recognize as fantasy sports leagues, only in a political context with a very sensible trading card/proxy voting system thrown in.

I offered to send the pertinent pages to Ms. Phillips, but she never responded.

The cyber-salesmen fired back at Phillips a few days later.

"You should know that the site is back up so you can see for yourself what voteauction.com (by then, they had changed the name) is all about. The original owner sold the site to an Austrian holding company after the New York City Election Commission warned him about the possible legal consequences...

"We feel that voteauction.com has a much better chance of success while operating on foreign soil. We have watched with great interest the development of the American Election Industry. Political consultants promise to 'deliver' voters to their candidates by spending campaign contributions on advertising.

"In essence, this treats the voter as an end product to be sold to the candidate while the candidate sells him or herself to the campaign contributor. Voteauction.com turns this idea on its head by putting the power of capital back into the hands of the voters.

"Even though we are Austrian, we agree with the American ideals of Democracy and Capitalism and we feel that the growing Election Industry combines these ideals perfectly. Voteauction.com did not invent the Election Industry, it is just the next logical step in this industry's development.

"Voteauction.com is not an insult to the people who fought to defend the right to vote. In fact, most of our registrants are people who have never voted before. By providing them with an incentive, voteauction.com is encouraging them to participate...

"Although we do not expect you to change your mind about voteauction.com, we hope that you will be able to see our perspective," the missive concluded.

"Not a chance," Phillips curtly retorted.

I think Greenfield got it right two decades ago.

"One thing can be said with unhappy certainty about how Americans will vote this November, the next and the next: they will vote less. The ever-shrinking faith, or interest, in our political process has been proven at the polls since 1948," Greenfield said.

"Staying at home is as legitimate a political statement as is frenzied political participation...Recent studies have shown that the nonvoter is as fully informed as the voter," he noted.

"There is a very simple, administratively easy, eminently American solution...We can allow the American people to sell our votes to each other," Greenfield wrote.

He suggested that government print the ballot equivalent of negotiable coupons.

"You might swap your Governor ticket for a Congressional ticket and $5, then give that $5 away for yet another Congressional ticket. Suddenly you could vote (multiple) times for the office you cared about...while others will be casting your discarded votes for the candidate they most wanted to win...

"Since politicians have been buying votes with their promises — and with our tax money — vote selling is nothing new. The only real difference is that it would eliminate the middle man, permitting us to buy and sell in the deepest tradition of the American Way of Life," Greenfield concluded.

All in favor? All opposed? Let me know how you'd vote.

Be well. Raise hell.

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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 31-year Nevadan, a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com, where the past five years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988. For more detailed research, use the search engine at the front page of this site.

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