Flawed Machines and Negligent Officials Threw FL-13

On November 7, elections officials across the country congratulated themselves on what they considered a smoothly run election. But Election Day was far from flawless. Some of the worst incidents occurred in Florida, where voters encountered problems that led to massive disenfranchisement and may well have changed the outcome of a congressional race.In Sarasota County, citizens voted in a number of races, including the high-profile race for the 13th District congressional seat. Although the vast majority of voters cast ballots in lower profile races in that district, more than 18,000 voters -- one out of every seven citizens who came to the polls -- cast no vote in the congressional race.

The reason wasn't that voters didn't have any preference. The fault lay clearly with flawed voting machines and negligent election officials who did little if anything to address the problem. Many voters are convinced they selected one of the candidates, but that machines lost or ignored their votes. Because of another round of mismanaged elections, almost twenty thousand voters were disenfranchised in a race which could be decided by a few hundred votes.

Statisticians and voting machine experts agree that something went drastically wrong. The fact that the numbers in Sarasota County are out of sync with neighboring counties that used different voting technology demonstrates how flawed the system is. And the fact that three other counties in Florida that used the same machines had the same problem, but in a different race, demonstrates clearly that something went very wrong in Sarasota County.

This week, voters from Sarasota County filed suit calling for a revote. The voters are being represented in the suit by People For the American Way Foundation, along with Voter Action, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the ACLU of Florida. Because of the massive disenfranchisement that took place, a new election is the only acceptable option and the only possible way to know which candidate is actually preferred by voters.

If the Democratic candidate, Christine Jennings was truly preferred by voters, she has every right to represent this seat. Alternately, if Republican Vern Buchancan was the voter's choice, he should not have to enter Congress under a cloud of suspicion and uncertainty.

After 2000, Americans were told that new machines would prevent the kind of debacle we saw in President Bush's contested victory over Al Gore. But although machines have changed in Florida, the trustworthiness of the election process has not. No one can argue that the election results certified by the State Canvassing Board on Monday are better than a rough guess of which candidate was actually preferred by voters.

This debacle is yet another reminder of Florida's desperate need for comprehensive election reform. Voters deserve to have faith in the election system, and Florida voters have seen again and again how misplaced that faith has been. Un-countable, un-verifiable, un-auditable voting must end.