By ABBY SIMONS
Minneapolis Star Tribune
July 08, 2008
The 19-year-old University of Minnesota student was undecided in the presidential election. So for a minimum of $10, he'd vote for whomever you liked. Or, if you so chose, for no one at all.
He'd even go so far as to photograph himself in the voting booth with his ballot. On May 28, he put his vote up for bid.
"Good luck!" Sanders wrote for good measure under the eBay handle zepdrummer612. "You're (sic) country depends on You!"
Now Sanders, who told investigators that the posting was merely a joke, faces a felony charge.
"We take it very seriously. Fundamentally, we believe it is wrong to sell your vote," said John Aiken, director of communications for the Minnesota secretary of state's office. "There are people that have died for this country for our right to vote, and to take something that lightly, to say, 'I can be bought.'
"It's a real shame," he said. "I can imagine the conversations being held in American Legion Clubs and VFWs about whether this is a joke or not."
Sanders, a liberal arts major from Edina, Minn., was charged Thursday with one count of bribery, treating and soliciting, a felony under an 1893 Minnesota law that makes it a crime to offer to buy or sell a vote. The scarcely used law had its heyday in the 1920s, when many people sold their votes in exchange for liquor, said assistant Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond. As far as he knows, the case is one of a kind in modern times, he said.
The investigation began when the California Secretary of State's office discovered the posting and tipped off Minnesota's office. That office in turn notified the Hennepin County attorney, who contacted eBay to ascertain Sanders' identity.
According to a criminal complaint, an investigator contacted Sanders, who confirmed that he made the posting, adding, "That was a joke. It's no longer listed."
Sanders agreed to meet with investigators but later rescinded.
When contacted Thursday, both Sanders and his attorney, Steven Levine of Coon Rapids, Minn. declined to comment.
Diamond said his office responded appropriately to what is without question a case of law-breaking.
"There are two things going on here in terms of why it's a crime," he said. "One is the notion that elections should be a contest of ideas and not of pocketbooks -- at least not in the sense of straight-out 'I can buy your vote.' The second notion is that everybody gets one vote and you don't get to buy another one."
While the charge carries up to five years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine, time will tell what's in store for Sanders.
"Just like any other person charged with a crime, he's entitled to a trial if he wants one, but we're hoping he will take responsibility and we'll come up with a sanction that fits the crime," Diamond said.
While Sanders' eBay effort got plenty of attention from investigators, it didn't do so well on the Web.
His offer got zero bids.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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