The Sarasota Triangle: Blaming Voters, Defending Machines

The reported results in the race to determine who will serve the citizens of Florida’s 13th District pose questions that strike at the core of debate over the merit of computerized voting systems. A recount is inevitable given Republican Vern Buchanan’s razor thin margin of 368 votes over Democrat Christine Jennings. But a ‘recount’ will not answer the serious questions that the results raise.

The exquisitely gerrymandered 13th District lies south of Tampa and is dominated by Sarasota and Manatee Counties. The media has noted the inexplicably high under vote rate in Sarasota, with most reports citing a rate of over 13%. According to the reported results over 18,362 of the Sarasotans that voted in this election were unconcerned about who would represent them in the 110th Congress.

But it’s actually much worse than most of the media is reporting. The actual under vote in the precincts is 16.17%. The reason the media is reporting 13% is they do not know that the under votes on absentee (paper) ballots is 2.6%. The average (weighted for the greater number of precinct votes) for both absentee ballots and precinct votes is 13%. Absentee voters in Sarasota County voted on paper ballots counted by optical scanners while those who voted at early voting centers and at polling places on Election Day voted on ES&S iVotronic touchscreen voting machines.

As usual, election officials have blamed the voters and defended the machines. The Miami Herald reported:

Sarasota's election supervisor, Kathy Dent -- who days before the election acknowledged the race's ballot layout troubled some voters -- insisted Wednesday she oversaw a ''good election'' and that there was ''no equipment failure.'' Still, Dent, a Republican elected in 2000, couldn't explain why there were so many undervotes. She speculated the day before that voters might have been turned off by the nasty campaign.

This attitude is an insult to the voters of Sarasota County and represents a stunning betrayal of the responsibility entrusted in election officials to administer election that accurately reflect the will of the voters.

The fact that the under vote is 2.6% for absentee ballots reveals the falacy of the argument that the race was very ugly, turning off voters, thus a whole bunch of people did not vote in the race. How can it be that the nasty campaign only affected voters who voted on touch screen voting machines and not their neighbors that voted on paper? (And it can’t be explained away by any late and particularly vicious ads, since voters were early voting – or 'not voting' according to the results – for two weeks before the election on the touch screen machines as well.)

America needs more than a reprint from Sarasota’s iVotronic touch screen machines. The machines should have a thorough forensic review to find the flaw – whether it's in the software, the ballot design, the calibration, the ballot programming, or elsewhere – that erased the votes of thousands of Sarasota's voters. America needs a thorough debate of the wisdom of entrusting the casting and counting of votes to unverifiable, unreliable, and untrustworthy voting systems.

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