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A Cook County, Ill., judge on Wednesday issued an order to stop a Web site from providing a forum to auction off votes for next month’s presidential election. The preliminary injunction issued by Circuit Judge Michael J. Murphy was the result of a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners against the owners and operators of Voteauction.com. The one-hour hearing before Murphy was a one-sided affair as no attorney for the defendants appeared, leaving board General Counsel James Scanlon to state his case on why the court had jurisdiction over the matter and why an injunction shutting the site down was needed. Board of Election Commissioners, et al. v. Hans Bernhard, et al., No. 00C0E31. In issuing his ruling, Murphy compared the Internet to the atom, capable of both good and evil uses. “Corrupting the vote is a most serious crime,” Murphy said. “It corrupts the heart and soul of democracy.” The next step for the board is to serve a copy of Murphy’s order on the site’s owners and the company that registered the site’s domain name, Scanlon said following the hearing. The day before the hearing, a notice was posted at the site saying that due to pending litigation, Illinois residents could no longer register to sell their votes, Scanlon said. “That shows some willingness to bring themselves within the law,” he added. The board filed its lawsuit and emergency motion for a preliminary injunction on Monday against the Web site’s owner Hans Bernhard, an Austrian citizen and three other Austrians identified as administrators or coordinators for the site, Luzius A. Bernhard, Oskar Obereder, and Christoph Johannes Mutter; James Baumgartner, a New York state resident who created the site and sold it to Hans Bernhard; and Domain Bank Inc., a Pennsylvania company that registered the Web site’s name. Because the defendants are all from outside Illinois, Scanlon went into great detail on how he attempted contact them through the mail, Federal Express, e-mail and fax. Because the notice barring Illinois residents from registering at the site was put up, Scanlon said he took that as confirmation that Bernhard had received a copy of the complaint, although he did not speak to him personally. He did, however, speak with Baumgartner, his attorney from Albany and the general counsel for Domain Bank, Inc. to discuss the legal action with them, Scanlon added. As of Oct. 12, there were more than 1,100 Illinois residents registered with the site to sell their votes to the highest bidder, Scanlon said. A check of the site several hours after the hearing showed that 1,632 Illinois residents had registered to sell their votes, and that the high bid to buy them was $28,500. The site indicated that bidding had been cancelled in Illinois as well as in California. Individuals or companies could register at the site to place bids for those votes, with a minimum bid at $100 with an increase of $50, he added. Under Illinois law, selling or buying votes or attempting to sell or buy votes or conspiring or soliciting to buy or sell votes is a Class 4 felony. “The actions of the defendants have caused the plaintiffs to be deprived of their right and privilege to a free and fair election under the constitution of Illinois and federal law,” Scanlon said. “They had a duty not to violate the law. There is a conspiracy here to encourage illegal voting in Illinois.” While Scanlon and Murphy took the issue of selling and buying votes seriously, people posting at the voteauction.com message board saw nothing wrong with it. “If I want to use my vote in this way, then, by God, leave me alone! It’s mine, I own it, I paid for it, I earned it wearing a uniform for 20-plus years, I was willing to die for it, now get the hell out of my way while I do what I want with my vote,” wrote one person using the name “anonymous” in a posting from Wednesday morning. Another person going under the name “Kei Kei” wrote on Wednesday, “I want to be paid for voting for a candidate whether they are good for the country or not. “The idea is no different from a politician being paid by special interests groups to vote for bills on their behalf. Even if the bill is not good for the country they just want their money,” the posting stated.

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