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Criminal Aspects

The U.S. Congress and state legislatures prohibit a wide variety of conduct in connection with elections. It is criminal conduct, for example, for a candidate to promise an appointment to public office in return for campaign contributions (18 U.S.C.A. § 599). Numerous laws prohibit the coercion of voters, including the solicitation of votes in exchange for money, interference with VOTING RIGHTS by armed forces personnel and other government employees, and the intimidation of voters.

The enforcement of criminal laws can face the odd challenge on election day. In State v. Stewart, 869 S.W.2d 86 (Mo. App. 1993), Robbin Stewart was stopped for speeding as he returned from voting in a primary election. Stewart argued that the case against him should have been dismissed because article VIII, section 4, of the Missouri Constitution provided that voters should be "privileged from arrest while going to, attending and returning from elections, except in case of TREASON, felony or breach of the peace."

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District rejected Stewart's argument. The appeals court noted that in the past, the Missouri Committee on Suffrage and Elections had entertained the idea that the clause cited by Stewart should apply to primary elections as well as general elections, and that the committee had refused to adopt the expansion. In a footnote, the court advised that the U.S. Supreme Court had construed the phrase "treason, felony or breach of the peace" as including all criminal offenses (Williamson v. United States, 207 U.S. 425, 28 S. Ct. 163, 52 L. Ed. 278 [1908]). Such a reading would seem to nullify the objective of Missouri's constitutional clause. Nevertheless, the existence of such an election-day privilege is a testament to the importance of free elections in the United States.

The 2000 presidential election was one of the most controversial in U.S. history, where GEORGE W. BUSH won the election by defeating former Vice President ALBERT GORE JR. in the

A voting machine used in the 2000 presidential election on display at the West Palm Beach County Government Center.

electoral college despite the fact that Gore had won the popular vote. Although much of the attention of the country focused upon contested election returns in the state of Florida, the election also involved other controversies. In 2000, a resident of Illinois, James Baumgartner, opened a web site called Voteauction.com, which purported to allow voters to sell their absentee ballots over the INTERNET to the highest bidders. Although a court in Illinois quickly closed it down, the site reopened in several other states. State and federal law enforcement officials hounded Baumgartner, who finally sold the site to an Austrian, Hans Bernhard.

Baumgartner claimed that he had opened the site as a publicity stunt to raise awareness of FRAUD in government. Bernhard, on the other hand, maintained that he operated the site for the purpose of making a profit. Several state and local agencies brought actions against him immediately, seeking to have the site shut down before the November 7, 2000 election. Moreover, Bernhard faced a CONTEMPT charge for violating a court order in Illinois requiring him to shut the site down. Bernhard's Internet service provider eventually shut down the site before the election.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Doom to EmbargoElections - Administration Of Government Elections, Primaries And Conventions, Initiatives And Referendums, Campaigns, Criminal Aspects