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Vote-Swapping Suit Is Reinstated

Web site operators are allowed to proceed with their free-speech case against the state.

February 07, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court on Thursday reinstated the free-speech lawsuit by operators of vote-swapping Web sites who are suing California.

The Web sites appeared before the Nov. 7, 2000, election as their operators in several states tried to create a system to allow users in one state to trade their vote for president to someone in another state.

Many sites were aimed at supporters of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who was seen as a threat to siphon votes from Democrat Al Gore in states where the race was expected to be close.

Three sites voluntarily shut down before the election under potential threat of litigation from California election officials, who said the sites violated state election laws outlawing vote swapping.

A Los Angeles federal judge had dismissed the operators' lawsuit. The suit, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, seeks damages on allegations that California violated their constitutionally protected speech. The operators also seek an injunction barring California from taking similar action in the 2004 general election.

A federal judge had barred their damages claims, and refused to promptly entertain the operators' bid to prevent California from blocking their Web-based vote-swapping plans for the 2004 election.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ordered the suit to go forward. The San Francisco-based appeals court ruled Thursday that failing to resolve the dispute may result in "chilling" the Web operators' protected speech in the next election.

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