Common Cause Congressional Update:A Look at the Election Problems in Florida's 13th Congressional District
Contrary to many of the news stories concerning the election problems in Florida's 13th District, this is not a partisan issue. Common Cause urges all House members to maintain an open mind as the investigation proceeds, and to wait until all possible remedies have been exhausted before seating either candidate in the House in January.
Background: During early voting and on Election Day, 2006, a significant number of voters in Florida's Sarasota County reported having problems getting the voting machines to register their votes for the congressional candidate. At Common Cause, we received news of calls from distressed Sarasota voters on the toll free MyVote1 phone line. We also received written descriptions of the problems from respondents to our Online Voter Survey, which invited our members across the country to describe their 2006 voting experiences. When the Sarasota County ballots were counted, it became apparent that more than 18,000 voters had not had a vote registered in the congressional race. This reflects an "undervote" rate of nearly 16 percent for voters who cast their ballots on the ES&S I-Votronic paperless voting machine, presenting a stark contrast with the 2.3 percent of undervotes in this race by absentee voters.
Since Election Day, Common Cause and other nonpartisan voting rights groups have tried to determine what might have caused such a vast number of votes to go unrecorded. Florida election officials originally maintained that the voters were disgusted by the negativity on both sides and so chose not to vote in protest. Others have maintained that the ballot design was faulty, and many voters didn't see the race on the machines' screens. However, these two suggestions are insufficient, since we know from our own reports that voters were having problems getting their votes to register in the voting machines. In addition, there are two other details that make the disgusted voters and poor ballot design excuses seem implausible:
There were even higher undervote rates on the same ES&S machines in the state-wide attorney general race, although that race did not have the ballot layout issues that the Sarasota Congressional race had.
Lower down on the Sarasota electronic ballot there was a hospital district race, which received 3,000 more votes than the Congressional race. Yet, that race did have the same kind of layout as the Congressional race.
Common Cause believes that every attempt should be made to ascertain and affirm the voters' will in any election. While the Democratic candidate in the Congressional race, Christine Jennings, has filed suit, we would like to point out that a nonpartisan suit has been filed on behalf of the voters in District #13 asking for a revote. Plaintiffs in the suit are registered Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. You can read descriptions of what happened by some of the 11 plaintiffs on the voter lawsuit complaint at http://www.voteraction.org/States/Florida/Legal/Sarasota_Election_Contest.pdf.