Florida e-vote audit criticized by Jennings, activists

State report says machines didn't cause undervote of 18,000

A state audit that found no errors by electronic voting machines in last November's controversial congressional race in Sarasota County, Fla., has come under fire from several  voting activists for its lack of independent analysis.

The state Division of Elections undertook the audit after Democrat Christine Jennings lost the 13th District House seat by 369 votes to Republican Vern Buchanan. In that election, nearly 18,000 ballots left the race blank, prompting complaints that the undervote was caused by defective e-voting machines.

Then-Secretary of State Sue Cobb requested the audit to determine whether mechanical errors or other e-voting processes caused the so-called undervote. The district uses iVotronic touch-screen systems from Election Systems & Software Inc. (ES&S) in Omaha.

Current Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning announced on Friday that the audit found that the machines were not defective and did not cause an undervote. "The audit team concluded that there is no evidence that suggests the official results are in error, and further concludes that the results of the November 7, 2006, election in Sarasota County are accurate," Browning said in a statement.

He also noted that a separate study of the iVotronic hardware and software by the Security and Assurance in Information Technology (SAIT) Lab at Florida State University found no mechanical cause for the undervote.

Both the Jennings camp and voter activists immediately denounced the audit report as inaccurate.

"It was flawed and incomplete and confirms the need for a comprehensive investigation by outside experts," a spokesman for Jennings said today. "It's unfortunate that the state's election officials were more concerned about sweeping the problem under the rug than finding out the truth about what went wrong with Sarasota County's voting system."

Jennings filed a lawsuit shortly after the election seeking to have the results overturned.

Also blasting the audit report was a Washington-based voter activist group, People for the American Way Foundation, which is also a co-plaintiff in the Jennings lawsuit.

"This audit's a whitewash," said foundation President Ralph Neas in a statement  shortly after the audit results were announced. "It is the result of a flawed process overseen by people with a stake in the outcome, and it will not be the last word on this matter."

Browning's spokesman contended that the audit was fair and the results accurate. "We know other professionals will review and examine our work and the work of the SAIT Lab," Browning's spokesman said. "Some individuals may reach different conclusions, but we have been very open with the entire process and stand firmly behind both the audit processes and findings."

The audit results came about a week after U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to investigate the race as part of an overall study of the viability of electronic voting machines.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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