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US appeals court rules California wrong to shut down 2000 vote-swapping websites

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that the state of California acted unconstitutionally by threatening criminal prosecution and shutting down websites that incorporated vote-swapping mechanisms prior to the 2000 US presidential election, holding that the "websites' vote-swapping mechanisms as well as the communication and vote swaps they enabled were constitutional protected" speech under the First Amendment. The court rejected the state's argument that its anti-corruption and anti-fraud interest justified the threats, saying that vote-swapping did not entail "illicit financial transactions such as the buying of votes" and that the state "failed to demonstrate that the burden imposed on constitutional protected activity by the disabling" of the vote-swapping was not "greater than was essential" to the furtherance of California's anti-fraud interests. According to the court, the websites "repeatedly warned users that fraud was possible and advised them to take steps to reassure themselves that they could trust their matched counterparts."

The websites encouraged voters to address the "peculiarities of the American electoral system" by pairing "third-party supporters in a swing state such as Florida or Ohio to agree to be paired with major-party supporters in a 'safe state' such as Massachusetts or Texas," to vote for the other's preferred candidate. The goal was to allow a major-party candidate to perform better in the electoral college without hurting the third-party candidate's national popular vote. AP has more.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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