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In the Under-belly of the Beast

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Message Jayne Stahl
Just when we thought it was safe to put another election behind us, yet again, comes news out of Florida of a lawsuit by Democrat Christine Jennings who lost to Republican Vern Buchanan by less than 370 votes. Jennings is challenging the results of an election that awards a House seat to replace that held by Katherine Harris who, you'll recall, achieved national notoriety while serving as Florida secretary of state, and was responsible for presiding over state results in the closely contested 2000 presidential race, an election that was decided by the Supreme Court. Shortly thereafter, Harris was defeated in the Senate, and is now a two-term member of the House.

Six years later, she finds herself at one remove in another dispute over election results one in which Chrisine Jennings, a Democrat, is disputing the awarding of victory on the basis of nearly 20,000 electronic ballots that reflect votes in other races, but not in the congressional races. Jennings has asked a local judge to either declare her the winner of the congressional race in her district, or to have the election results overturned based on her contention that "undervotes," ballots that have been cast but show no selection in a given race, favor her victory. We may never definitively know what those ballots recorded, but the Orlando Sentinel suggests that it has strong evidence that "undervotes" would swing the election heavily in Jennings' favor. (Slate)

Statewide, were they to be counted, undervotes would result in victories not just for the House race in the 13th District, but in the state's gubernatorial race, according to the Orlando Sentinel. While incumbent Crist easily triumphed, in Sarasota County, in his gubernatorial bid, when more than 17,500 undervotes are factored in, Davis' Democratic challenger leads him by almost 7 percentage points.

More importantly, the question of electoral legitimacy transcends party lines, and speaks to the issue of representational government itself, as well as whether any political group, in ascendancy, has the right to overpower another. In Cook County, Illinois, friends of Green Party candidate for state representative, Kathy Cummings, argue that the practice of designating voters "not registered at address shown" was used to keep "two village trustees, one former village trustee, one township trustee, two Oak Park attorneys and three women activists" off the ballot for top Illinois offices in the midterm elections. (Wednesday Journal)

Cummings supporters also claim that it was Democratic Party Treasurer/Lawyer Mike Kasper who disputed the validity of signatures on a petition to preclude Kathy Cummings from becoming an official Green Party candidate. This is ironic in light of the Democrats' contention of Republican tampering with election results in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential races.

It is also ironic that the House may be faced with having to decide the results of the Florida congressional race, and either back Jennings, or Republican designee, Buchanan, just as the Supreme Court validated, and/or fabricated, the presidency of George W. Bush.

So, we now find ourselves in the under-belly of the electoral beast. While watching contenders for a congressional seat refute voter ballots is, in itself, nothing new, the larger issue of authenticating election results is in its infancy, and the allegations of one Green Party candidate, in Illinois, as well as a looming court battle over a congressional race in Florida are harbingers of bigger, and better battles yet to come, in 2008, unless, and until, the issue of undervotes, and the veracity of electronic ballots is faced squarely in the coming months.
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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