Sarasota Voters File Lawsuit for Revote in Congressional Race

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
November 21, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU Says Faulty Machines, Not Voters, Decided Election

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Voters from Sarasota County today filed a lawsuit in state court asking for a revote in Florida’s 13th Congressional district. The lawsuit alleges that thousands of voters were disenfranchised when massive undervotes plagued the tight Congressional race between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan. In a high-profile battle over former Rep. Katherine Harris’ seat, the result was decided by 363 votes, yet over 18,000 ballots cast on Sarasota County’s e-voting machines registered no vote in the race, an exceptional anomaly in the State.

“It is likely that the faulty machines, not the voters, decided this election,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which joined in the lawsuit. “For years, Governor Jeb Bush’s administration, including various Secretaries of State, has dismissed reports of problems with electronic voting machines and resisted mandating audits and other methods of ensuring that electronic voting machines are capable of performing a genuine recount. We even had to go to court to overturn an Administrative Rule issued by the Secretary of State banning recounts in counties that use touch screen voting machines. Now we have mass disenfranchisement and a crisis in voter confidence in the integrity of the elections.”

The lawsuit was filed by a group of Sarasota County voters, both Republican and Democratic. The voters are represented by election advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Florida , Voter Action, People For the American Way Foundation, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. .

“Election officials have shown remarkable disregard for the ability of voters to actually cast a ballot,” said Ralph Neas, President of People For the American Way Foundation. “Casting a vote is one of our most fundamental rights, and that right was violated for thousands of Sarasota County voters. At this point holding a new election is the only appropriate option.” Neas also called for statewide election reform, saying, “Florida can no longer afford to certify election results that no one trusts.”

Voter Action, a national nonpartisan advocacy group focused on election integrity, has been leading legal efforts nationally to address the problems with electronic voting.

“The problems in Sarasota are not unique,” said election law attorney Lowell Finley, co-director of the organization. “Across the country we have seen how these systems lose large numbers of votes, switch voters’ selections on the screen, cause high undervote rates, add votes or even count votes backwards. Our democracy is too important to continue using unreliable and untrustworthy voting equipment. The people of Sarasota are standing up for their most fundamental right no matter their political affiliation. This is about protecting democracy.”

The lawsuit was filed under provisions of Florida law that permit voters to contest an election based on misconduct by election officials or on evidence that legal votes were rejected in sufficient numbers to place in doubt the outcome of the election.

The voters’ lawsuit cites misconduct of election officials, including the failure of Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent to adequately investigate, identify or report equipment malfunctions, software malfunctions or ballot layout errors in the ES&S iVotronic touch screen voting machines, even after she received numerous complaints about the machines from voters and poll workers during the two week period of early voting.

The lawsuit also alleges that the iVotronic voting machines were improperly certified by the Florida Secretary of State in disregard of early warnings concerning the reliability and trustworthiness of e-voting systems made by ES&S systems.

On Monday, the Florida Elections Canvassing Commission certified Vern Buchanan as the winner of the Congressional District 13 race by 363 votes, despite the fact that electronic ballots cast by more than 18,000 people in Sarasota County showed no vote for either candidate in a high profile congressional race. This is an undervote rate of more than 16 percent, compared to an undervote rate of two-and-a-half percent in the paper absentee ballots and one percent in the U.S. Senate race on the same electronic ballot.

At a public hearing hosted last Thursday by the ACLU of Florida, PFAWF, Voter Action, Common Cause and Fair Vote Florida, numerous voters in Sarasota County reported that when the summary screen appeared on the ES&S voting machines they were assigned to use, their vote had not been recorded. Some voters were able to go back and record a vote, but others believe they were never given a meaningful opportunity to cast a vote in that race.

The lawsuit notes that absentee ballots, which are cast on paper instead of the computerized touch screen voting machine, did not reflect a similar lack of votes in the congressional race in Sarasota, and that other counties in the same congressional district – which used different voting equipment – did not experience the same massive undercount in the congressional race.

“The voters of the 13th Congressional District deserve to know for sure who they elected,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. “Voters should not have to take the word of vendors and election officials when serious problems emerge that call into question the accuracy of the results. This suit is designed to help voters find out what really happened.”

The complaint is available at: www.aclufl.org/pdfs/Legal%20PDfs/SarasotaElection_FINAL.pdf

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