18 February 2008: Sarasota Soda: A Brief Sip

Those of you who listen to Voice of the Voters regularly have no doubt heard the folksy theme song “If you wanna be a voter, don’t go to Sarasota . . . .” The singer is election-integrity activist Lori Rosolowsky, talented, also able to host the show in Mary Ann’s absence.

     Lori and others will be happy (?) to find out that the case has finally been resolved after nearly two years of squabbling in court, male chauvinism, Republicanism, and so on.

     To give a brief overview, there was an election in Sarasota County, Florida, in 2006 to fill the House seat vacated by the notorious secretary of state/chairman of the Republican campaign to re-elect Bush, Katherine Harris. Christine Jennings, Democrat, ran against Vern Buchanan, Republican. Vern won by a few hundred votes, but eighteen thousand votes went uncounted, and no one could figure out why. Traditionally a Republican stronghold, the county was gravitating toward more Democratic choices.

     Vern was seated “conditionally” in Congress while Christine went to court. “Lori’s song” was written and people shook their heads. ES&S iVotronics had been used, a variety that has delivered inaccurate votes more than once (http://www.votersunite.org/info/mapflyer1.pdf, among other sites).

     Christine meanwhile had taken her case to Congress when the judge threw it out.       

The result was a study by the Government Accountability Office, GAO. Their conclusion was that the machines were not at fault. Question marks revolve around the heads of many of us involved. We do trust GAO, even though its director just stepped down. But the GAO study was found to be incomplete.

     Incomplete and mild, not enough for the Committee on House Administration to demand a repeat election. After all, there were only eighteen thousand undervotes, that is, one seventh of the county’s population, a far larger number than the margin of “victory,” a few hundred votes, that justified Vern Buchanan’s “conditional” presence in Congress..

     After conducting some tests in a simulated scenario, Ted Selker of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, issued a press release on February 12 with tentative findings:  the real problems were the design of the ballot and incomplete distribution of sample ballots. Those voters who had been given sample ballots voted for a congressional candidate while those who had not received one were confused and touched the wrong button.

     The Caltech/MIT press release can be found at http://www.vote.caltech.edu/media/documents/wps/vtp_wp61.pdf. This blog is based primarily on Ted Selker’s report, currently at the top of Ed Felten’s Web page http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com. I personally witnessed Ed Felten hack a touchscreen machine in less than a minute, simply by inserting a card that virused the machine. A similar event was reproduced by Fox News, of all networks, at http://video.stumbleupon.com/#p=5355jxx3kc. 

     Christine, by the way, has declared her intention to run for Congress again in 2008.

     I accessed nearly all of the above information from an email sent out by Mark Crispin Miller’s News from the Underground. All remaining errors are undoubtedly my own.