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Site asks Democrats, Republicans to swap votes together

Votepact.com suggests that Republicans and Democrats hook up and agree to support a third-party candidate--without upsetting the outcome between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Vote-swapping sites are turning bipartisan as Tuesday's elections near.

The latest stratagem to hit the Web comes from Votepact.com, a site suggesting that Republicans and Democrats hook up and agree to support a third-party candidate--a tactic devised to provide a protest vote that will not upset the outcome between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

"Instead of dissatisfied Democrats and Republicans both holding their noses and voting for someone they don't like, they can pair off and vote for someone they do like," said Sam Husseini, a 35-year-old political analyst who together with a few friends created the site.

Vote-swap sites first began appearing a few weeks ago, after polls showed that Green Party candidate Nader was pulling votes from Democrat Gore in numbers that could hand the election to Republican Bush.

The sites suggest that a Nader supporter who lives in a battleground state trade votes with someone in a state where Democrats or Republicans have a solid lead. The point of the agreement is to clinch 5 percent of the popular vote for Nader so that the Green Party can get federal matching funds for the 2004 presidential election while at the same time protecting Gore.

Whether the practice of vote swapping is legal remains to be seen, however.

Three California-based vote-swapping Web sites voluntarily shut down operation after California Secretary of State Bill Jones threatened to prosecute, citing a maximum three-year prison term for each election law violation.

Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday vowed to seek a restraining order against Jones to get the sites reopened.

Under federal election law, it is illegal to offer a pecuniary inducement--in other words, money--to vote for a specific candidate. Still, some legal experts believe the methods of verbal persuasion used by vote-swapping sites are fair game.

Many vote-swapping sites include legal disclaimers pointing out that they do not broker enforceable contracts, but merely facilitate conversations between voters--speech they say is protected by the First Amendment.

Alfie Charles, the spokesman for Jones, defended the prosecution threats, saying, "Each voter gets one vote...You can't trade a vote for a vote--it's illegal."

Husseini sets his idea apart from the others, noting that Votepact doesn't match up the dissatisfied voters, like some other sites do.

"We are distributing an idea so that people who know each other can make a pact to vote for a third-party candidate and trust that each will follow through," he said.