Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Counting all the votes in Sarasota County, Florida

By Nancy Jane Moore

It appears that the missing votes in the Sarasota County, Florida, congressional race would have favored the Democrat, Christine Jennings.

An analysis by the Orlando Sentinel of the 17,846 county ballots that lacked a vote in the congressional race indicated that those voters preferred Democrats by a significant percentage in five major statewide races.

Those 17,846 voters represented 15 percent of the total turnout. The votes were cast on a touch-screen machine that does not generate a paper trail. On absentee ballots -- which were cast on paper -- only 2.5 percent of the voters skipped the congressional race. The percentage of touch-screen ballots in Sarasota County with no vote in the race for Congress is six times that of the no vote in the other four counties included in this particular congressional district.

In the governor's race, those whose congressional votes weren't counted favored the Democrat by 6.7 percent. In the Senate race, they voted against Katherine Harris (their current Congresswoman) by a whopping 33 percent. See the Sentinel's graphic presentation here.

Jennings carried Sarasota County despite the no votes, but didn't do as well in the rest of the district. The election has just been certified for the Republican, who won by 369 votes.

As the Sentinel observes:

The analysis does not -- and cannot -- reveal why no congressional choice was recorded on the ballots. It also cannot determine which candidate any single voter might have selected had he or she made a choice.

But the strong performance of other Democrats indicates Jennings would have found a sizable number of supporters within the group.

The Sentinel showed their findings to two political experts and quoted them in their story:

"Wow," University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato said. "That's very suggestive -- I'd even say strongly suggestive -- that if there had been votes recorded, she [Jennings] would have won that House seat."

David Dill, an electronic-voting expert at Stanford University, put it this way: "It seems to establish with certainty that more Democrats are represented in those undervoted ballots."

Jennings has filed suit and four advocacy groups are challenging the election as well: the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, Voter Action and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFF has a press release and a copy of the complaint (PDF).

Since it seems very unlikely that such a large percentage of people didn't vote in this particular race, the question is why the votes weren't registered. One obvious possibility is a glitch -- or a hack -- in the programming of the machines themselves.

In a Nov. 26 editorial entitled "Deja Vu in Florida," The New York Times, noting that "if there was a computer glitch it probably changed the outcome of the race," said:

The campaign wants its experts to review the machines' secret computer source code, the programming that runs the computer inside the machine, to look for problems. Election Systems and Software, the company that made the machines, is not saying whether it will allow this. If it resists, the courts should order the company to hand over the code -- a requirement that should, in fact, be routine in all places where electronic voting machines are used.

The Times went on to say that "electronic voting without the full array of protections, including a voter-verified paper trail, is unacceptable."

If a flaw is found in the machines, the only fair solution is a new election. But that will certainly be fought tooth and nail by the Republicans.

According to the Sentinel, a Florida Republican spokeswoman said of the suit:

Christine Jennings is once again allowing her own personal ambitions and the radical political agendas of liberal third-party groups to hijack the democratic process.

I guess having all the votes actually counted is a "radical political agenda" only important to liberals.

Thanks to Jamie Lynk of Sarasota, who alerted In This Moment to the recent developments.

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