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Afilias promotes .vote domains amid US vote-by-mail controversy

Afilias-owned Monolith Registry, which runs .vote and .voto, has launched a site designed to help US citizens figure out how — or if — they’re able to vote by mail during the coronavirus outbreak.

The site, at mailyourballot.vote, comes as controversy rages in the US about whether voters should be forced to show up in person to ballot boxes in the midst of a deadly-virulent pandemic.

Reports suggest that Republicans are generally against mail-in votes, hiding behind bogus fears of voter fraud, because a lower turnout generally favors their candidates.

While I suppose one could argue that by attempting to make the information accessible it’s implicitly picking a side, Afilias doesn’t have a lot to say about the partisan debate. It said in a press release:

In the age of COVID-19, many voters are interested in voting by mail to avoid potential exposure to the virus. Unfortunately, learning HOW to vote by mail is difficult, as every state has different rules and puts this critical information in a different place. For example, 7 states (IN, LA, MI, SC, TX, YN and KY) restrict voting by mail to elderly voters only and 29 states (plus Washington, D.C.) only allow it in federal elections. Recently, governors of two states (NY and KY) ordered absentee ballot applications to be sent to all of their states’ voters.

The new site itself is little more than a directory: a clickable map of the US that bounces you to the official state government policy/instructions on voting by mail.

.vote isn’t an especially populous gTLD, having roughly 3,500 regs at the last count.

The US presidential election is this November.

Mediocre .vote gTLD drops restrictions

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2019, Domain Registries

The .vote and .voto gTLDs have had their registration restrictions removed in a bid to increase numbers.

Both domains were previously technically restricted to those who could show they had a legitimate connection to democratic proceedings, and were sometimes used by political campaigns.

But it appears those post-registration restrictions were lightly enforced, and now they’ve been dropped entirely.

Neither gTLD has been particularly successful — .vote has been wobbling around the 3,000-domain mark for a while, while .voto (the Spanish version) has about a tenth of that figure.

Both renew at retail for about $60 a year, but first-year regs can currently be obtained for about half that amount.

They’re both managed by Afilias.

The highest-profile .vote domain I’m aware of to date was used in the spectacularly successful Hollywood-backed campaign to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016.

Donuts withdraws its .vote bid, raising questions about new gTLD auctions

One down, only 306 to go! Donuts has withdrawn its application for the .vote new gTLD, leaving an Afilias joint venture as the sole remaining applicant, it emerged today.

It’s reasonable to assume that this is the first result of the private string auctions, designed by Cramton Associates, that are being run by Innovative Auctions this week.

Donuts had submitted .vote to this auction and has previously said that auctions were its preferred method of resolving contention sets.

Either way, the winner of the contention set is Monolith Registry, a joint venture of .info registry Afilias and two individual investors based in Utah.

Monolith is also the only applicant for the Spanish translation, .voto.

It’s the first example of a contention set between competing business models being resolved.

The result tells us a lot about how money talks in the new gTLD program and how it does not evaluate applications based on criteria such as inclusiveness or innovation.

Donuts had proposed a .vote with an open registration policy and no special purpose. People would have been able to register domains there for essentially any reason.

Afilias, on the other hand, intends to tightly restrict its .vote to “official and verified governments and office seekers” in only the United States.

Remarkably, it has the same US-only policy for the Spanish-language .voto, though both applications suggest that eligibility will be expanded to other countries in future.

Cybersquatting is not infrequent in electioneering, so .vote could give voters a way to trust that the web site they visit really does contain the opinions of the candidate.

Pricing is expected to be set at $60 “for the first year” ($100 for .voto), and Afilias reckons there are upwards of one million elected officials and candidates that would qualify for the names in the US alone.

It’s a potentially lucrative business, in other words.

But did the program produce an ideal result here?

Is it better that .vote carries a high price and will be restricted to American politicians? Is it right that other, non-governmental types of voting will be excluded from the TLD?

Or does the result show that the program can produce innovative uses of TLDs? With a couple of restricted namespaces, where voters and politicians can trust the authenticity of the contents (insert politicians-are-liars joke here) is Afilias adding value to the internet?

These types of questions are going to be asked over and over again as more contention set results emerge.