Sarasota Recount Begins by Mitch E. Perry

11/13/06

This morning in Sarasota, an automatic machine recount of the extremely tight and undecided Congressional race between Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings began, a process that Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent says will probably go through the end of tomorrow (roll tape#1 o.q.�half a percent threshold�)

Dent ordered the recount to start at 10:15 a.m., but there was a half-hour delay after Susan Pynchon from the Florida Fair Election Commission filed an objection because workers weren’t reading off every serial number on every one of the 1,498 machines as they were being unsealed.

The Sarasota County Canvassing Commission ruled that since there is no legal authority for the machine numbers to be read off, the recount would resume with no procedural changes. The recount then started up at 10:45AM.

Just 373 votes separate Buchanan and Jennings – which triggered a recount across District 13, which also includes Hardee, Desoto, and Manatee Counties.

But nearly all of the attention is fixed squarely on the 18,000 undervotes in Sarasota County.

There are also staffers from the State’ Secretary of State present to audit whether the electronic voting machines worked properly after nearly 13 percent of the public failed to choose between the 2 Congressional candidates. Jenny Nash is with the Secretary of State’s office (roll tape#2 o.q.�that the supervisor used�)

The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported on Saturday that Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent has now had an about-face regarding the electronic voting machines used in the County.

Dent has passionately advocated and defended the electronic machines purchased by the County in 2001. Ironically, a ballot measure calling for a paper trail and spot audits of election results was approved on last week’s ballot in Sarasota.

The Herald Tribune reports that Dent has written letter to Sarasota County officials that as a result of that successful measure, she will now urge the County Commission to purchase a voting system that includes a paper trail.

But Kindra Muntz, the Chairperson for the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, says that she’s not convinced that Dent now supports eliminating touch screen machines (roll tape#3 o.q.�with the touch screen machines�)

The measure calls for instituting a paper trail in Sarasota County by January of 2008. But work on implementing it will not happen anytime soon. The Florida Secretary of State, Sue Cobb, says that office plans to continue their court appeal of the measure, on grounds that the auditing and certification provisions conflict with state law.
The Herald Tribune reports that 3 County Commissioners and one Commisioner-elect say they support the switch to paper ballots, citing the massive undervote by the machines in the Congressional race.

As has been reported in the aftermath of the sizable amount of undervotes in Sarasota, the 3 other counties that also had the Buchanan-Jennings race on their ballot did not have nearly the same amount of undervotes.

Kindra Muntz from the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections says the current controversy begs to get rid of the touch screen machines (roll tape#3 o.q.�the big mystery�)

Voters who missed the The Buchanon-Jennings, or had to be prompted by the machine to make sure to record their vote in Sarasota claim that the race itself was easy to miss on the electronic voting screen.

Richard Hassen is a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. And he writes the Election Law Blog, which monitors voting issues. WMNF spoke to him about the situation in Florida’s 13th Congressional District …He said he’s heard the complaints about poor ballot design (roll tape#1 o.q.�machines lost the vote�)

That’s Loyola Law School professor Richard Hassen, discussing Florida’ controversial Congressional election in the 13th District, which is now undergoing an automatic machine recount because of the closeness of the race. But the controversy is about the 18,000 undervotes in Sarasota only. We’ll talk more with Professor Hassen tomorrow about his thought on how the election went overall across the country last week.

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