County Charter Amendment Had Been Challenged by County Commissioners in Court
By John Gideon on 9/14/2006, 6:20am PT  

Guest Blogged by John Gideon

Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE) has just announced that a Sarasota County Judge has found in their favor and against the county voting officials and the Florida Secretary of State.

SAFE had been proposing a ballot initiative that would require voter verified paper ballots and independent random audits of election results in Sarasota County. The County Commissioner chose to go to court instead of allowing the legal petition to move forward.

The press release from SAFE says:

Judge rules that County commissioners must submit amendment proposed by citizen petition to a vote

Chief Judge Robert B. Bennett, of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, State of Florida issued a final judgment on the petition for writ of mandamus by the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections that "the Board of County Commissioners of Sarasota County shall submit the proposed amendment to the Sarasota County Charter to the Sarasota County electorate in accordance with the requirements on provisions of Article VII of the Sarasota County Charter." The amendment requires voter verified paper ballots and independent random audits of election results in Sarasota County.

This ruling in favor of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections validates the process of proposing amendments to the charter via citizen petition. Over 14,500 voters in Sarasota County from all precincts, all demographic groups, and all political parties signed a petition for paper ballots and mandatory audits as opposed to the paperless touchscreen voting system now used in Sarasota County and 14 of the other most populous counties in Florida. This was well over the 12,030 or 5% of the registered voters needed to put the referendum on the Sarasota County ballot in November.

Rather than voting to authorize the election at their August 22nd meeting, the County Commissioners, on the advice of the County Attorney, filed a lawsuit for a declaratory judgment on the language of the petition, challenging its constitutionality.

Judge Bennett's decision validates the right of citizens to vote on the measure, and affirms the legality of much of the petition, which is the criterion for placement on the ballot. The Board of County Commissioners must respond to the judge's ruling in their meeting on September 13th. The resolution setting the election along with the ballot language must be delivered to the Supervisor of Elections by Friday, September 15th in order to print the referendum on the November 7th ballot.

The complete ruling of Chief Justice Bennett can be seen on the website of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE), at www.safevote.org.

This is a big announcement from a hard-working group of activists who still have an uphill battle to force their county to use a voter verified, auditable voting system.