House forms task force on Florida’s 13th district

The House Administration Committee will convene a special task force to look into the ongoing controversy of Florida’s 13th district congressional race, breaking with tradition by delving into a contested race while the state is still acting.

The nine Democratic members of the Florida delegation last week asked committee Chairwoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) to create a task force in response to news that the voting machines used in the district had previously undisclosed problems. Committee spokeswoman Janice Crump confirmed yesterday that the task force was being formed.

In Sarasota County, 18,000 voters failed to cast a vote in the congressional race, an abnormally high “undervote” that Democratic nominee Christine Jennings has alleged was due to voting machines malfunctioning.

In addition to contesting the race with the committee, Jennings is suing for access to the machines’ software so she can conduct a private review. She has called into question the integrity of government-run audits, which found that the machines worked properly.

A letter that surfaced last week described a delayed response time on some of the touch-screen machines used in Sarasota County. The Jennings campaign did not receive the letter when it requested documents for the lawsuit and has suggested there was a cover-up.

The formation of the task force goes against committee tradition and statements by Democrats that they should allow Florida to finish its handling of the case before taking it up.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), the Administration Committee’s ranking member, responded to the Florida Democrats’ letter last week with a letter of his own that stressed the need to maintain tradition and allow the state lawsuit to run its course.
“Both before and after the November elections, Democrats advocated the need for a ‘wait and see’ approach,” an Ehlers spokeswoman, Salley Collins, said yesterday. “Forming a task force and conducting hearings on unresolved state issues does not seem like a ‘wait and see’ approach to me.”