GOP withholds member to protest FL-13 task force

House Republicans are refusing to name a member to a three-person task force created to analyze the contested election in Florida’s 13th district in protest of the task force’s establishment and mission.

House Administration Committee Chairwoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) created the committee this week in response to revelations regarding previously undisclosed problems with the voting machines used in the district. She named Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) as chairman and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) as a second member.

Republicans, led by the full committee’s ranking member, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), have yet to name a minority party member to the task force because they don’t agree with its formation and believe its mission is unclear, Ehlers spokeswoman Salley Collins said today.

The House traditionally has deferred to state action before taking up a contested election, and Democrat Christine Jennings’s lawsuit in a Florida court is still pending.

A letter from a voting-machine company surfaced recently, showing pre-election inconsistencies with the machines. Millender-McDonald cites the letter as the reason for convening the task force early.

Collins said that the task force’s mission — it will look into the letter and “other matters relating to” the district’s election, according to a letter Millender-McDonald sent to committee members — does not jibe with past practices.

“We’re uncertain as to what we’re naming this person to,” Collins said. “What we normally do is form a task force to actually handle the contest, not issues that may arise [that are] somewhat similar to the contest.”

Republicans steadfastly have opposed forming the task force before the state is finished acting, and they have pointed to past comments from Democrats, including Millender-McDonald, who suggested reviewing the contest early might prejudice the case in Florida.

Jennings lost to now-Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) by 369 votes and has said that machine error caused 18,000 ballots in Sarasota County to not record a vote in the congressional race — an abnormally high “undervote.”

She says she would have won if not for the error, and she is suing for access to the machines’ software. State audits have cleared the machines’ performance.

The committee will move forward with or without a Republican, said Millender-McDonald’s chief of staff, Bandele McQueen. 

“They will work to determine what’s going on down there, regardless,” McQueen said. “The chairwoman clearly hopes and expects that Mr. Ehlers will name a member.”