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The Brandenton Herald

'Mockery of democracy' in District 13?

November 11, 2006
Herald Staff Writer

SARASOTA - Recounts won't explain why 18,000-plus votes in the congressional race weren't cast or recorded on Sarasota County's touch-screen voting machines, which have a history of similar problems elsewhere, voter advocacy groups and a voting-machine expert said Friday.

The machines can't produce a paper trail that would show what caused the large number of "undervotes" in the Vern Buchanan-Christine Jennings race, making two anticipated recounts useless, the groups said.


Another group went further, demanding elections officials scrap Tuesday's election results altogether.


Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent, who has said the machines are not at fault, did not return a telephone message left with her office Friday. Although the office was officially closed for Veterans Day, several employees were working in anticipation of a machine recount starting at 10 a.m. Monday.

Unofficial results show Buchanan beating Jennings by 373 votes out of more than 237,000 cast. The 0.12-percent difference is small enough to trigger both a machine and a manual recount by state law.

But 18,382 is the number that has Jennings refusing to concede and considering a legal challenge. That's the difference between how many people voted in Sarasota County and how many votes were counted in the Jennings-Buchanan race.

Dent, Buchanan's campaign officials and other Republican leaders contend those voters either accidentally overlooked the high-profile and acrimonious race, or opted not to vote in it.


But Jennings, Democrats and numerous voters maintain the machines didn't record votes, especially those for Jennings. They cite lower undervote rates in other races on the same ballot, as well as the congressional race in the district's other counties.


In Sarasota County, the congressional undervote rate for those who used iVotronic machines was more than 16 percent. The overall rate, which includes those who cast paper absentee ballots, was 12.9 percent.


A company spokeswoman defended the machines' performance in Sarasota County, although it was the elections office - not the company - that prepared them for the election.

"We've been in touch with Dent and she indicated that her very strong belief is that the equipment functioned well and as it should," Jill Friedman-Wilson said. "Undervotes are attributed to one factor and one factor only: the lack of selection in this particular race."

That's because there's no way to tell otherwise, said Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa computer science professor and expert on electronic voting machines. As a result, Florida requires elections officials to assume blank votes were intentional.

The only way to tell if the machines malfunctioned is to pull them out of storage and conduct a thorough, and public, examination, he said.

"Federal courts probably are going to have to supervise this as well as the state courts," Jones said. "I think that's where this is headed."