Florida e-voting: 18,000 'missing' votes in close race

Government watchdog group Common Cause has called for an investigation of electronic voting machines used in Florida's 13th congressional district because of 18,000 missing votes.

About 18,000 people who cast votes in other races in Tuesday's election failed to record a vote for either candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. At last count, Republican candidate Vern Buchanan led Democratic candidate Christine Jennings by less than 400 votes in the race to succeed Republican Katherine Harris, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate.

Nearly 13 percent of voters in Sarasota County picked candidates in other races but did not choose a candidate in the House race. More than 35 callers to Common Cause's voter hotline left messages Tuesday saying the e-voting machines appeared to leave off a vote for Jennings on their summary screens, said Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause Florida. In neighboring Manatee County, just 2 percent of voters did not cast a ballot in the congressional race.

Some voters caught the omission and were able to go back and vote again for Jennings, but others may have missed the problem, Wilcox said.

"Sarasota County election officials must conduct a revote," Wilcox said. "The machines should be impounded, audited and tested to determine if voters were unable to cast a ballot and why. Sarasota County voters deserve an explanation."

Undervoting for top-of-the-ballot races on e-voting machines is typically under 1 percent, according to a study released this year by the Brennan Center for Justice.

The county did not require the Elections System and Software (ES&S) e-voting machines to include paper printouts to back up the electronic vote.

"This is part of the reason we've been calling for a paper trail," Wilcox said.

Ironically, Sarasota County voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure requiring paper trail ballots to be used as a backup to the e-voting machines.

Sarasota County voters cast about 16,000 more votes in the Florida governor's race and in the Senate race than were recorded in the House race. About 4,000 more people cast ballots for the county's Southern District Hospital Board than were recorded in the House race.

One of the major advantages of using e-voting machines is they are supposed to make it for difficult for voters to undervote, e-voting advocates have long said.

Sarasota County will begin a recount in the race Monday. County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the undervote. An ES&S spokesman also didn't not immediately return a phone call.


Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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