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Gore-Nader vote trading sites close down

Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ At least three Internet sites that arranged vote trading between backers of Al Gore and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader have closed down following complaints from California officials, but others are still operating.

One Gore backer who is a congressional aide arranged a swap through his House e-mail account and admitted Tuesday that it was a mistake to use the government system.

The sites sought to have Nader supporters in the states where the Nov. 7 vote was expected to be close vote for the vice president. In exchange, Democrats would agree to vote for Nader in states where Texas Gov. George W. Bush was expected to win.

California elections officials contacted Jim Cody, the Los Angeles Web site operator who set up www.voteswap2000.com and informed him he was violating state law.

``We never had any idea we were in violation of any laws. As soon as we were informed ... that we were in violation we shut the thing down,'' Cody said in an interview.

In the site's short life, more than 5,000 matches were arranged between last Thursday and Monday night, he said.

After Cody closed his site, www.VoteExchange.org and http://www.votexchange2000.com shut down on their own.

The trades, not sanctioned by the campaigns, could help Gore now and the Green Party in the future.

Gore would gain valuable votes in close states where Nader is threatening to siphon off Democratic votes. In return, Nader's party would qualify for federal money in 2004 if the candidate received 5 percent of the popular vote next week.

An e-mail message obtained by The Associated Press showed how the swap worked in a case in which Fred Turner, legislative director for Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., was a participant.

``Congratulations! You have been matched with Fred Turner from this state: Va.,'' the message to an unidentified Nader backer read. ``This person's first choice candidate is Al Gore, but he/she is planning on voting for your candidate, Ralph Nader, trusting that you will in turn vote for Al Gore according to an honor system that we all support by registering at http:// VoteExchange.com.'' The message then gave Turner's House e-mail address.

Turner said in an interview that he made a mistake by using his government e-mail for the swap.

``After I did it I realized I shouldn't have done it,'' he said. ``I'm concerned. That was a mistake.''

House rules prohibit use of congressional office resources for campaign purposes, including equipment, supplies or files.

Asked about the vote swapping, Gore said he didn't know much about it but was ``encouraging everybody to support what I stand for.''

The Justice Department is not investigating the scheme currently because there is no evidence that anything of value was offered.

``Activities like the vote-trading site that do not involve offering pecuniary inducements do not fall under federal statutes that address vote buying and selling,'' said a department official who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Alfie Charles, spokesman for California Secretary of State Bill Jones, said, ``This is not only illegal but it compromises the integrity of elections and the fundamental underpinnings of elections. We can't take this lightly,'' said

Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury said Tuesday that he is not convinced that the sites are illegal but has asked the state's attorney general to investigate.

In Kansas, Brad Bryant, deputy assistant secretary of state for elections, said his office hasn't taken any action yet but also is researching the legality of the scheme.


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