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The Sarasota Anomaly: Some Call it a Smoking Gun

By Bev Harris  Posted by Bev Harris (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   1 comment
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Posted by Bev Harris on Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Sarasota county results for the U.S. Congressional race, Governor,
U.S. Senate, Attorney General, CFO, and Commissioner of Agriculture
were put into a spreadsheet. The percent of undervotes reported on
absentee ballots (paper) was compared with the percent of undervotes
cast on Election Day. The results are unambiguous. In all of the
races, there was a greater percent of undervotes on Election Day than
on the absentee ballots.

These ranged from 11% more undervotes to just over 100% more
undervotes in the governor's race, to a shocking 622% more undervotes
in the U.S. House Race.

The overall higher undervote rate on Election Day is understandable
due to voter error on the new equipment, but that does not explain the
huge difference in undervote percent for the U.S. congress race. The
undervote percent for the absentee voters in that race was in range
with the other races, but the Election Day undervote was many times
higher in the congressional race.

Couple this with the field reports of problems in this race (voter
reports indicate that when voting for Christine Jennings in the
congressional race, the summary screen showed a no-vote in that race),
and it is a near certainty that the system failed to properly record
votes on Election Day.

The table below summarizes the undervote information.

Percent of Undervotes in Each Race By Ballot Type:

Election Day

U.S. Representative

U.S. Senator


Attorney General

Chief Financial Officer

Commissioner of Agriculture

Background on this story:
Herald Tribune - By Jeremy Wallace, H-T Political Writer
Slim 368-vote margin will trigger a recount for the 13th District

Republican Vern Buchanan was clinging to a 368-vote edge over Democrat
Christine Jennings for the 13th Congressional District early this

Although Buchanan declared victory just before 1 a.m., the razor-thin
margin kept Jennings from conceding defeat and will generate an
automatic recount.

"It's been a long night," Buchanan told diehard supporters gathered at
the Sarasota Hyatt. "We got official notice. We won."

The results were loaded with controversy as nearly 13 percent of all
ballots cast in Sarasota didn't include a choice for Congress. That
difference, and scattered reports of difficulty finding the race on
Sarasota's touchscreen ballots, raised concerns about under votes in
the race.

Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent couldn't explain why 8,000 to
10,000 fewer people voted in the congressional race than in other
high-profile races for governor, attorney general or U.S. Senate. But
she said nothing mechanical went wrong with the county's $4.7 million
touchscreen voting machine system.


Throughout the day voters complained that touchscreen voting machines
were not registering votes for Jennings properly. Jennings campaign
held a midday press conference to warn the problem was widespread.

At about 11:30 p.m. with the results still in great doubt, Jennings
address supporters at a reception at Michael's on East in Sarasota.

"Right now, the most important thing, and I think that my opponent
would agree, is to make sure that the rights of Florida voters are
protected and that every vote is counted," she said.

It's a strikely similar comment to those made during the controversial
presidential election in 2000 when President George W. Bush won
Florida by less than 600 votes after weeks of legal battles and

Already Democrats were calling in lawyers from the Democratic National
Committee to weigh in on the potential voting issues.


a similar undervote was not recorded in other counties that voted in
the District 13 race. In Desoto County, only about 70 fewer votes were
cast in the House race as the governor's race. That represents a 1.1
percent undervote. In Manatee County - where not all voters even get
to vote in the House race -- the undervote for the Jennings-Buchanan
race was less than 6 percent, half that of Sarasota County, which
registered a nearly 11 percent undervote when compared to the
governor's race.

If Buchanan's victory holds, he will have survived a Democratic wave
that turned two other Republican held seats in south Florida to
Democratic control. The 13th Congressional District had emerged as one
of the most watched races in the nation, seen by many as a tipping
point to determine which party would control Congress next year.


"What looked to be a relatively uninteresting year in Florida politics
has turned out to be one of the most interesting in the nation," said
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of

The close battle in the 13th led to fierce campaigning, buttressed by
a slew of negative campaign mail, television ads, and radio spots in
which Buchanan tried to peg Jennings as a liberal. Jennings tried to
label Buchanan a corrupt businessman, continually question his
business background.


In a district where Republicans make up 45.3 percent of voters,
Democrats make up 32.3 percent and voters unaffiliated with either
major party are 22.4 percent, courting the other side was most
important for Jennings, whose campaign featured a TV ad with prominent
Republicans saying they would vote for her.

Even before the results began trickling in, Jennings campaign staff
was raising questions about Sarasota's electronic voting machines. The
campaign said more than 30 people complained Tuesday that their
initial votes for her weren't recorded.

Add to that the dozen or so complaints the Jennings camp says it
received during early voting and her supporters are worried there
might be hundreds of voters who intend to vote in the race but a
computer glitch seems to be preventing it.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Jennings' attorney Coffey.
"We know the problem is more widespread than that."

Sarasota citizens show how to fight back

A Sarasota citizen's group, Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections
(SAFE), launched an initiative for paper ballots. They fulfilled the
requirements to get it on the ballot; the Sarasota Supervisor of
Elections took issue with their initiative and tried to block it, and
they had to go to court to fight. They won, the initiative was on the
ballot, and Sarasota citizens voted overwhelmingly to ditch the
paperless touch-screens in favor of paper ballots, with the paper
ballot the document of record.

Florida Secretary of State Sue Cobb has indicated that she may fight
the voter's decision.
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Bev Harris is executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc. an advocacy group committed to restoring citizen oversight to elections.
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