County Elections Website Claims Voters Are Asked for Specific 'YES or NO' Confirmation of Undervotes at End of Voting Process
Sources Confirm it Didn't Happen That Way in Contested FL-13 U.S. House Race on November 7th...
By Brad Friedman on 12/10/2006, 5:05pm PT  

An instructional web page, explaining the ES&S touch-screen electronic voting machines in use during Florida's disputed FL-13 U.S. House Election gives faulty information to voters about the way the county's paperless voting systems works, The BRAD BLOG has learned.

The information offered on the county's election website, concerning the crucial process during which voters might choose to adjust any "undervotes" found on their electronic "ballots" at the end of the voting process, is misleading and incorrect. According to several sources, the systems in use during the contested November 7th U.S. House race between Vern Buchanan (R) and Christine Jennings (D) did not operate as advertised by the Sarasota County website.

The county web page in question is described as "a technical look at how the ES&S iVotronic touch screen system works." Yet, Sarasota's ES&S iVotronic systems, apparently, didn't work as described on the site.

The "VOTE button" on the iVotronic, as explained by the text on the website, will cast the vote only after the summary page is given to the voters, allowing them to explicitly approve or disapprove of any undervotes found on their "ballots."

"The iVotronic will review the ballot for any races for which the voter did not cast a vote (undervote), and asks if this is the intent of the voter," according to the webpage. The voter is then said to receive a YES or NO option to confirm their intention of undervoting in the particular race(s).

(The webpage is here. Click the #5 option to see how the "VOTE button" on the system is supposed to work. A screenshot of the page follows at the end of this article.)

Lowell Finley, however, an attorney for VoterAction.org --- one of several non-partisan organizations leading a voter lawsuit demanding a revote in the election --- tells The BRAD BLOG that "the statement on the Sarasota website is false" and that voters were not given such an option on November 7th.

We also inquired about the matter on Friday afternoon with the office of "the Honorable" Kathy Dent, Sarasota County's Supervisor of Elections...

Someone who answered the phone in the Administrative Office, but subsequently refused to either give her name or allow herself to be quoted even off the record, confirmed that there is no explicit "YES or NO" confirmation concerning undervotes at the end of the voting process before the "ballot" is finally cast.

(As a side note, the same person at the Sarasota Elections office said that Supervisor Dent --- who has still yet to resign, but should --- had just left to go on a week's vacation. Seems rather ill-advised timing, given the important ongoing events unfolding down there at this moment, but what do we know.)

The contested election now stands with just 369 votes between Republican Buchanan and Jennings according to the state certified results. But some 18,000 votes were lost from "ballots" which failed to register any vote at all for either candidate in Jennings's strongest areas. That undervote rate, approximately 15%, is far higher than any other county in the same district for the same race. The paper Absentee Ballot undervote rate in the same county for that same race was just 2.6%, which would seem to counter the disingenuous claims of Buchanan and his supporters who claim that voters purposely chose not to vote in that particular race for some reason.

Many voters have given statements to the Jennings campaign, to local newspapers, and to attorneys who are challenging the election claiming they were disenfranchised after they had tried several times to vote for Jennings, but the machine failed to register their vote.

The complete misleading text from the Sarasota County web page --- which both Finley and the official from the Sarasota County Supervisors of elections office confirmed is inaccurate --- follows below, along with Finley's explanation of how the confirmation page on the voting machines actually worked and a screenshot of the inaccurate information on the Sarasota County Elections website...

(5) Vote Button

The VOTE button finalizes the voter's selections and casts his/her vote, then clears the screen in preparation for the next voter.

Upon proper selection of choices, the voter is brought to a summary screen which displays those choices on each item on the ballot. At this time, the voter can make changes by touching the ballot item on the summary screen, whereby they will go back to that item to review or change a choice. When finished, the review screen reflects the updated selections. The iVotronic will review the ballot for any races for which the voter did not cast a vote (undervote), and asks if this is the intent of the voter. Upon selection of "YES", the VOTE button will illuminate and the voter will be prompted to press the button to cast the ballot. If the undervote question is answered "NO", then the voter will have the opportunity to return to the ballot and make a choice. At this time the voter can review the summary screen and press the VOTE button to cast the ballot.

Finley explained to The BRAD BLOG in a brief Email late last week how the so-called confirmation process on the voting machines actually worked (or didn't) on November 7th in Sarasota's FL-13 race...

The statement on the Sarasota website is false. The iVotronic ballot summary screen layout in Sarasota County does not ask if it is the intent of the voter to undervote, nor does it call for a "YES" or "NO" response. Instead, if no vote has been entered for an office, the summary screen states "No selection made" in small red print under the title of the office, and leaves the box next to the office blank. A general instruction about how to return to a selection screen to make a change is always displayed on the summary screen, whether or not such an undervote is included. These are hardly intuitive or user friendly methods of alerting and instructing the voter. Thus, it is possible to undervote unintentionally, and some almost certainly did as a result of failing to see the race due to poor ballot layout. More important, however, there is strong evidence that this does not explain much of the undervoting, which was due to machine malfunction.

UPDATE 1/23/07: Political Cortex moves the ball forward in noting that Florida statute "covering the 'electronic voter interface' (video display ballot for a typical voter, audio ballot for a sight-impaired voter)" would seem to indicate that Sarasota County is in violation of the law by not asking for explicit voter approval concerning undervotes. Here's the relevant passage from the Florida Election Code [appendix definitions and pp. 20-22]...

The system must communicate to the voter the fact that the voter has failed to vote in a race (under vote) or has failed to vote the number of allowable candidates in any race (under vote) and require the voter to confirm his intent to undervote before casting the ballot.

(Hat-tip Jim Soper for the heads up to the incorrect info on the Sarasota website!)