Nov. 17, 2006 – Voting rights groups are calling for a revote in Sarasota County, Florida, where they suspect electronic voting machines failed to record tens of thousands of votes.
Election officials said they uncovered an unusually high percentage of voters who cast a ballot, but did not mark a preference for either candidate in the tight race for the 13th District congressional seat.
According to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections, more than 18,000 such "undervotes" were found.
Voting-rights groups say that the high percentage of undervotes suggests that many of the ballots cast in this race were not properly counted by the machines, the iVotronic touch-screen system, made by the company Election Systems & Software (ES&S) .
County officials are currently conducting a recount in the race between Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings; Buchanan leads by only about 400 votes. But groups question whether a recount of a computer-generated vote count will offer any meaningful review.
"Public confidence in the vote-counting process is a bedrock principle of any democracy," wrote DEMOS, a public-interest advocacy group, and the National Voting Rights Institute (NVRI) in a joint statement. "In Florida's 13th Congressional District, it is clear that only a revote with the option of hand-recorded paper ballots will ensure that voters in that district can trust that their votes will be properly counted."
At a news conference, county Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent said "if the Court orders me to do a revote, that's what we do."
While rare, there is precedent for conducting a revote. Last February, a judge in Ohio called for a revote on a referendum in the city of Carlisle. Officials there had discovered more votes were cast in Montgomery County than there were registered voters. Voters there were using Diebold electronic machines.
Although Elections Supervisor Dent said "machines don't make mistakes," at a news conference Wednesday, groups pointed to past problems with ES&S machines accurately counting votes, including problems with undervotes. In January 2004, in an election with just one race, in Palm Beach and Broward counties, machines registered 134 undervotes.
"This election in Sarasota County should serve as a wake-up call to the nation to revisit the use of touch-screen voting machines to count our votes," stated DEMOS and NVRI. "The integrity of our vote-counting process is at stake."
The Florida Secretary of State mandated an audit of the undervotes. On Tuesday, a circuit court judge delayed that audit until both candidates could send their own representatives to participate in the investigation.