I believe we all feel strongly that our next representative to the U.S. Congress should be chosen by the will of the people and not by a problem in the voting machines.
I am committed to seeing that the will of the voters is carried out in this election of 2006. I will not rest until the intended votes are counted and every person's vote is counted and reflected accurately."
-- Christine Jennings (D), Press Conference, Sarasota Florida, 11/21/06
Details follow below the fold on the voters' lawsuit filed today calling for an investigation and full re-vote in the FL-13 U.S. House race between Christine Jennings (D) and Vern Buchanan (R). There are currently 363 votes between the two of them, with more than 18,000 votes unaccounted for on the paperless ES&S touch-screen systems used in Sarasota County. We'd give more of a recap of our story so far, but the press release from the four non-partisan groups who filed the case --- Voter Action, Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACLU, and People for the American Way (Florida) --- does a great job in summarizing the issues. We recommend you give it a read.
For our complete FL-13 coverage, you may click here for all of our stories to date, in reverse order.
UPDATE: The full complaint is now available for download here [PDF].
One point, however, to make clear, especially in light of the many calls for Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections, Kathy Dent, to take responsbility for the disastrous administration of this election by resigning immediately: the press release notes that the legal complaint charges "misconduct by election officials" and "evidence that legal votes were rejected in sufficient numbers to place in doubt the outcome of the election.":
Indeed, Dent knew about the problem well before Election Day, according to her statement on this video, and yet clearly failed to take appropriate remedial steps before 18,000+ votes were lost to the ether in her paperless ES&S touch-screen voting machines.
By the way, the Democratic candidate Jennings held a press conference herself yesterday (video here) --- along with her Republican(!) attorney --- and answered to Buchanan's obnoxious press conference held earlier in the day (we covered that here.)
As far as we're concerned, Jennings, in making her pledge that she "will not rest until the intended votes are counted and every person's vote is counted and reflected accurately" --- along with her courage in not allowing herself to be pushed around by the anti-democratic thuggery of her opponent --- has shown herself to be the model of what every candidate ought to look and sound like in the wake of such a horrendously administered election, in which the ability to determine the will of the people has been so clearly subverted.
The press release from the groups filing a lawsuit on behalf of Florida's voters follows in full...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 21, 2006
Drew Courtney or Nick Berning (PFAWF) --- 202-467-4999
Holly Jacobson (Voter Action) --- 206-723-1941
Brandon Hensler (ACLU) --- 786-363-2722
Matt Zimmerman (EFF) --- 415-948-5600
Voters from Sarasota County announced today that they are filing suit in state court in Tallahassee asking for a revote in Florida’s 13th congressional district. The suit alleges that thousands of citizens were disenfranchised when massive undervotes plagued the tight congressional race between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan. In a high-profile battle over former Rep. Katherine Harris' seat, the result was decided by 363 votes, yet over 18,000 ballots cast on Sarasota County's e-voting machines registered no vote in the race, an exceptional anomaly in the State.
The lawsuit is being filed by a group of Sarasota County voters, both Republican and Democratic. The voters are represented by election advocacy groups, including Voter Action, People For the American Way Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida.
“Election officials have shown remarkable disregard for the ability of voters to actually cast a ballot,” said Ralph Neas, President of People For the American Way Foundation. “Casting a vote is one of our most fundamental rights, and that right was violated for thousands of Sarasota County voters. At this point holding a new election is the only appropriate option.” Neas also called for statewide election reform, saying, “Florida can no longer afford to certify election results that no one trusts.”
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon noted: "For years, Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration, including various Secretaries of State, has dismissed reports of problems with electronic voting machines and resisted mandating audits and other methods of ensuring that electronic voting machines are capable of performing a genuine re-count. We even had to go to court to overturn an Administrative Rule issued by the Secretary of State banning recounts in DRE Counties. Now we have mass disenfranchisement and a crisis in voter confidence in the integrity of the elections. It is likely that the faulty machines, not the voters, decided this election.”
Voter Action, a national nonpartisan advocacy group focused on election integrity has been leading legal efforts nationally to address the problems with electronic voting.
“The problems in Sarasota are not unique,” said election law attorney Lowell Finley, co-director of the organization. “Across the country we have seen how these systems lose large numbers of votes, switch voters’ selections on the screen, cause high undervote rates, add votes or even count votes backwards. Our democracy is too important to continue using unreliable and untrustworthy voting equipment. The people of Sarasota are standing up for their most fundamental right no matter their political affiliation. This is about protecting democracy.”
The suit is being filed under provisions of Florida law that permit voters to contest an election based on misconduct by election officials or on evidence that legal votes were rejected in sufficient numbers to place in doubt the outcome of the election.
The voters’ lawsuit cites misconduct of election officials, including the failure of Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent to adequately investigate, identify or report equipment malfunctions, software malfunctions or ballot layout errors in the ES&S iVotronic touch screen voting machines, even after she received numerous complaints about the machines from voters and poll workers during the two week period of early voting.
The lawsuit also alleges that the iVotronic voting machines were improperly certified by the Florida Secretary of State in disregard of early warnings concerning the reliability and trustworthiness of e-voting systems made by ES&S systems.
On Monday, the Florida Elections Canvassing Commission certified Vern Buchanan as the winner of the Congressional District 13 race by 363 votes, despite the fact that electronic ballots cast by more than 18,000 people in Sarasota County showed no vote for either candidate in a high profile congressional race. This is an undervote rate of more than 16%, compared to an undervote rate of 2.5% in the paper absentee ballots and 1% in the U.S. Senate race on the same electronic ballot.
At a public hearing hosted last Thursday by PFAWF, ACLU of Florida, Voter Action, Common Cause, and Fair Vote Florida, numerous voters in Sarasota County reported that when the summary screen appeared on the ES&S voting machines they were assigned to use, their vote had not been recorded. Some voters were able to go back and record a vote, but others believe they were never given a meaningful opportunity to cast a vote in that race.
The lawsuit notes that absentee ballots, which are cast on paper instead of the computerized touch screen voting machine, did not reflect a similar lack of votes in the congressional race in Sarasota, and that other counties in the same congressional district—which used different voting equipment—did not experience the same massive undercount in the congressional race.
“The voters of the 13th Congressional District deserve to know for sure who they elected,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. “Voters should not have to take the word of vendors and election officials when serious problems emerge that call into question the accuracy of the results. This suit is designed to help voters find out what really happened.”