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Chicago's gangster ridden past has come back to haunt city officials with the appearance of a new website - Voteauction.com, where people can register to sell their vote to the highest bidder

Perhaps unsurprisingly, city officials have failed to get the joke. The Board of Elections sent letters to federal and state prosecutors demanding that the site be shut down.

Board chairman and sourpuss Langdon Neal commented: "In Chicago we react strongly and quickly to this type of activity - whether it's tongue-in-cheek or not - because we need to guard our reputation here that this is a place where voting activity is legal and above board and beyond reproach."

The value of a vote varies widely from state to state. In Illinois, where 168 votes have been registered for sale, the asking price is a mere $15.79. Californian votes, by contrast, are going for more than $5,000.

However, it may prove quite a trick to get the site shut down. As advertised on the font page of the site:

"Voteauction.com has recently changed ownership. It is now owned by an Austrian holding company that has invested in many of America's new, emerging industries. We feel that the American Election Industry provides unique new opportunities for the foreign investor. We purchased voteauction.com in order to investigate the profit-making potential of the American Election Industry"

The new owner is running the site from Austria, and might just be outside the jurisdiction of any American authorities. And according to Dai Davis, a consultant solicitor with UL legal firm Nebarro Nathanson, there may be no way to get the site closed down at all.

"If it is a criminal offence in both the US and Austria, then it would be easy to shut down," he said. "But presumably if it was criminal then there would have been a complaint made against it. If it is lawful to sell your vote, then I can't see how they could do it in practise. It isn't so much a grey area as it is an impossibility to stop people doing things abroad." ®

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