07/05/2008 05:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One Man, One Vote

What is it with us? We nail the small-time lawbreakers and put them away for decades -- but the big-time operators can get away with murder and their millions.

Max P. Sanders is a Minnesota college student who put his vote up for sale on eBay, starting bid $10, along with the cheerful listing, "You're country depends on You!'' [Misspellings and erroneous capitalization thrown in free.]

He has now been charged with a felony -- bribery, and violating a 115-year-old Minnesota law against vote-selling.

Maybe it was a joke, as Sanders told authorities. Maybe he chose to call it that after the fact. What's really a joke is that the high-and-mighty official marketplace of legislative votes and support that goes under the grander names of lobbying and campaign financing is considered on the up-and-up, so long as it doesn't look too obvious. Sanders could get five years in prison. What do these high-end operators get? Re-elected.

If you don't think a vote doesn't matter, you haven't been paying attention since, oh, November 2000. It's heartening that the Minnesota county prosecutor puts such a premium on the sacred right of voting. But if selling one vote is a crime, where's the outrage, where are the consequences of manipulating or denying or nullifying tens of thousands of votes? Maybe we should send that prosecutor to Washington when he's finished with the Sanders caper, and put him in charge of the Federal Election Commission.

How much longer will votes matter, anyway? What our leaders really seem to value from us is our Visa cards, not our votes. We're so much less trouble as consumers than we are as citizens. Citizens have rights; consumers have needs. Maybe Sanders' real mistake was undervaluing his vote. A few more zeros on there and maybe he'd be hailed in some quarters not as a jailbird in the making, but as an entrepreneur.