The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller
Former U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum salutes as he arrives to address delegates during the second session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 28, 2012 REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES  - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)   - RTR377TE Former U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum salutes as he arrives to address delegates during the second session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 28, 2012 REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) - RTR377TE  

Too Late For Rick Santorum? New .VOTE domain promises to end campaign website cybersquatting

A story up at Mother Jones today illustrates the perils of running for political office in the 21st century. In addition to all the normal stuff you have to do to win, modern candidates also have to be sure to grab up all the appropriate URLs associated with their name.

As the piece notes,

The first thing candidates have to do to stake their claim on the internet is purchase all relevant web domain names, including any combination of the candidate’s name and the election year. Would-be-supporters look online to find out more information about candidates, but if the candidate’s website doesn’t have an easy-to-guess address and it’s not high up in Google rankings, voters might get a skewed story. That’s a lesson former presidential candidate Rick Santorum learned the hard way after sex advice columnist Dan Savage gamed Google so that a nasty neologism for Santorum’s name was one of the first results to pop up when people did a search for the Christian conservative. Detractors like Savage, opportunists trying to make a buck, and political opponents can be quick to snatch up valuable domains to exploit.

Noting this dilemma, some smart entrepreneurs are about to roll out a new .VOTE domain in the fourth quarter of 2004, specifically designed to address cybersquatting on political websites.

According to a release from the entrepreneurs’ company, Monolith Registry, “The .VOTE and .VOTO [Spanish version] domains promise to offer authentic, verified Internet addresses that eliminate voter confusion by ensuring personal domain names are only used by legitimate political candidates, political parties, referendums and ballot initiative campaigns.”

So how might a new bipartisan domain actually solve the problem? “We will ask for details making sure they are the candidate or an authorized representative,” says Chuck Warren, a political strategist who co-founded Monolith Registry. “We will do monthly audits, giving voters certainty this is the actual candidate.”

If you doubt this is a serious problem, consider the Mother Jones piece continues:

The National Republican Congressional Committee has set up a string of dummy websites that look like they’re for individual Democratic candidates but actually collect donations for the GOP’s cause. And Time‘s Zeke Miller recently mapped out the burgeoning universe of Hillary Clinton website squatters. A few prominent domains were being sold (for upwards of $14,000), while HillaryClinton2016.com, founded by a group of grad students, is an LLC hawking knockoff Clinton merchandise.

Warren tells me nobody will be able to anonymously secure a .VOTE domain — and that only active candidates may retain it. In short, he says the .VOTE domain will be tantamount to the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for campaign websites.

Warren, a Republican, also stresses that the domains are “omni partisan — any candidate can have it,” he says.

The security and reliability of .VOTE, he says, will be managed by registry services operator Afilias. According to a release, the .VOTE and .VOTO domains are managed by Monolith Registry LLC, a joint venture led by Afilias, “one of the world’s leading providers of Managed Registry Services.”

It’ll be interesting to see if this catches on, but it certainly seems like there is a real need for such a service.