- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 19, 2000

One trend in this election cycle that must not be ignored in all the controversy over the Florida recounts was the innovative use of the Internet to influence the way votes are cast. Media Metrix, a company that researches Internet and Digital Media activity, observed that Internet advertising peaked during the weeks surrounding the parties' conventions. Combined, Republicans and Democrats ran about 12.6 million impressions (the number of times an advertisement is rendered for viewing) on the Net.

While some might laud the Net as a tool for the further democratization of elections, there is nonetheless reason to be wary. In addition to informing the public about candidates and their positions, the Internet also has the potential to assist in the manipulation of the electoral process. This was evidenced most clearly by the creation of web-sites designed specifically for the purpose of trading votes in order to maximize their impact in the electoral college.

The electoral college was designed to protect voters in the minority against the tyranny of the majority. It meant that small constituencies living in sparsely populated states would have their voices heard. In modern terms, this means that the large po pulations in states like New York, Florida, California, and Texas are limited in their ability to decide election outcomes for those in less heavily populated states.Of course, the Founders could never have foreseen the ability of the voting populace to organize and circumvent this check. With the advent of the Internet, voters are now able to orchestrate vote-swaps to maximize the impact of their vote. In this particular election, it meant that futile Gore votes in landslide states could be traded for the Nader votes in battleground states threatening to hurt Mr. Gore. Nader supporters needed only 5 percent of the overall vote, so that their candidate could receive matching funds in 2004.

Therefore, the swap was designed to be mutually beneficial, in that Nader supporters could still have their votes cast in "harmless" states like New York or Texas, and the impact of Gore votes could be maximized in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and even ahem Florida.

Sound like a risky vote scheme? Hardly. This was a well-organized, thoughtful effort to undermine the electoral college. There were at least four such vote trading sites, some with high levels of sophistication and access. Perhaps the most famous of these sites, NaderTrader.org boasted a whopping 429,779 hits as of the Friday before the election. Voteswap2000.com offered its vote-traders a pull-down menu of states from which to choose, and sent e-mails when it found a match for their vote.

Justice Department officials have claimed such organization of vote trades are legal as long as they just serve as clearing houses and involve no monetary exchange. However, it seems absurd to have an electoral college system if the law allows individuals to circumvent it when it suits political needs. This seems to have been precisely the case in this election.

For although Mr. Nader only received approximately 3 percent of the vote, each one of those percentage points adds up to well over 900,000 votes. Clearly, if they were redistributed in the right way, they could have influenced some of the states that are currently in dispute. This issue must be resolved for future elections, so that Internet savvy voters are not able to manipulate this important check on power envisioned by the Founders.

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