Court prohibits access to touch-screen source code

Latest ruling in effort to find reason for 18,000 lost Florida votes in November election

The drawn-out saga involving a disputed congressional seat in Florida finished another chapter Monday when a state court ruled it wouldn't allow the source code of allegedly malfunctioning touch-screen voting systems to be examined.

Democrat Christine Jennings, last fall's unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House seat representing Florida's 13th District, had been seeking access to the software to determine whether flawed e-voting devices caused apparent voting irregularities.

Jennings has claimed that the iVotronic touch-screen systems made by Elections Systems & Software caused about 18,000 votes not to be counted in Sarasota County, throwing the race to Republican rival Vern Buchanan. Jennings lost the race by a mere 369 votes.

Jennings filed a lawsuit to determine whether a technical malfunction caused the undervote.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge William Gary first ruled in December that the ES&S code couldn't be examined by a third party. Yesterday, the 1st District Court of Appeals upheld Gary's decision. The ruling said that Jennings had not met the "extraordinary burden" of proving that the lower court had "departed from the essential requirements of law."

A Jennings spokesman Tuesday downplayed the significance of this week's ruling. He noted that a three-member legislative task force appointed by the U.S. House Committee on Administration is conducting an inquiry into the undervote. "They have the ultimate authority in this matter and are moving quicker than the courts ever have," he said. "Most important, the task force made it clear that they won't let claims of supposed 'trade secrecy' stand in the way of a thorough investigation of the voting machines."

Also, the spokesman noted, the Government Accountability Office is investigating the undervote.  A preliminary GAO ruling is slated  to be ready by the end of July.

ES&S had no comment on the decision at press time. 

Since the disputed election, the Florida legislature has passed, and Gov. Charlie Crist has signed, legislation banning the use of touch-screen systems in the state.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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