Friday, December 01, 2006

Fisaco In Sarasota County, Fla., Could Result In Legislation Requiring Verifiable Paper Trails For All Voting Systems

The fiasco in Sarasota County, Fla. -- where 18,000 voters mysteriously failed to cast a vote for the U.S. House of Representatives -- may be the smoking gun election reform advocates need to pass federal legislation requiring all voting systems to have verifiable paper trails.

As JABBS noted last month, a whopping 13 percent of voters in the county failed to vote in the tight race between Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings. (A higher percentage of people s in the county voted for obscure races, such as hospital board -- something that political scientists said is incredibly unlikely.) In neighboring counties in the district, between 2 and 5 percent of voters did not cast a vote for the House seat.

It was a discrepancy that county elections superviosr Kathy Dent couldn't explain. But because there was no paper trail, voters had no way to prove that they had voted for Buchanan, Jennings, another candidate, or no candidate.

Buchanan wound up winning by 369 votes, out of nearly 240,000 cast. The local paper, the Herald-Tribune, determined that if Jennings had received the same percentage of the 18,000 missing votes as she did among counted votes in Sarasota County, she would have won by 600 votes.

But again, no paper trail, no recount, no way to know who the real winner was.

***

Beyond the question of who won Florida's 13th Congressional District -- ironically, the seat vacated by Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) -- the buzz on Capitol Hill is that the missing votes give new meaning to what had been a theoretical debate about the reliability of touchscreen voting machines.

"What happened in Sarasota really does highlight the issue," Howard Gantman, communications director for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), told the Herald-Tribune.

You can expect hearings, and Sarasota officials are expected to be called in to testify.

Feinstein, who is expected to become chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, plans to re-inroduce legislation requiring all voting systems to have verifiable paper trails.

With Democrats now in control of the Senate, there's a good chance the legislation should pass.

16 Comments:

Anonymous trinity said...

David R. Mark said...
"Feinstein, who is expected to become chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, plans to re-inroduce legislation requiring all voting systems to have verifiable paper trails."


The least we can all expect from our government is an accurate and verifiable voting system. This type of debacle is getting to be a bit much. It undermines our confidence and causes frustration and distrust in our ability to hold a fair election.

I understand that no election is perfect, because human beings aren't perfect. Neither are computers it seems. But I hope they can come up with an effective solution to this problem ASAP.

With regard to Sarasota Co., however, they will no longer be using the touchscreen system.

"Meanwhile, Sarasota County has already decided to throw out its $4.7 million touch-screen voting machine system, but not because of the problems reported in this race. This Election Day, even with their apparently flawed electronic voting system, citizens in the county were able to pass a measure that will require paper to play a role in future elections. In time for the 2008 presidential election, citizens in Sarasota County will be casting their votes on paper ballots, which will be counted by optical scanners."

http://tinyurl.com/yfexk6

9:59 AM  
Anonymous alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...

Did I just see a pig fly by? Trinity agrees with David?

I think I hear church bells .... :)

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Dave G. said...

Cripes, I agree with Trinity too. We've found common ground!

Sickening system. Nobody is indeed perfect, but "whoops where are those 14,000 votes" is way shy of perfect.

And I wouldn't have a problem with those screens if they printed a paper record of it. ATMs do this, oh, 1345351324 times a day. But when it comes to our democracy, somehow everyone is all-thumbs. What a bunch of garbage.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous trinity said...

Yay! Common ground! Pop the cork on that bottle of fine champagne we've been saving! ;)

Now if we can just agree on what the most effective way to deal with this might be. I seem to remember reading about there being problems with contemporaneous paper replica ("CPR") as well. After all, even in ATM machines, the printers sometimes jam.

All we can do would be to make sure all touchscreen voting equipment (as well as all other voting equipment) is thoroughly tested, and poll workers should be properly trained to deal with these problems when they arise.

At least we can all agree that the integrity of our elections needs to come first and foremost. Happy day! :)

11:58 AM  
Anonymous trinity said...

The Salon.com article mentioned this theory as one possibility: "...the hardware of the screen registering two touches, a vote and then a touch canceling that vote. The double-touch problem is known as "screen bounce." "

12:04 PM  
Anonymous alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...

maybe, but that's a seriously flawed system. at the very least, it should notify the voter that no vote has been recorded (or notify the voter that "you have successfully voted for ..."

12:13 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

Exactly. And I would think that a paper receipt would be able to show that immediately, so the omission could be corrected on the spot.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Dave G. said...

Even if paper jams happen (and I can't remember a time it did for me w/ an ATM) you're still setting up 2 roadblocks that need to fail before the integrity of the vote is questioned - the computer, and the paper (assuming the voter correctly verifies what they voted for). To me that's a more sound system than "whatever, computers are cool."

People would never let this crap happen if it was their money at stake "I got $20 and it says $60? KILL BANK NOW." so it shouldn't happen with our vote, either.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

One thing that I do not agree with at all, however, is the fact that Democrat Christine Jennings, along with the ACLU and People for the American Way, has filed a lawsuit contesting the results of this election and are planning a rally to demand a revote in the 13th Congressional District race.

After two recounts, Republican Vern Buchanan has been certified as the winner of this seat. I think this is very bad behavior on the part of Jennings, and at this point, she should just accept the results like a grownup. I wonder if any of you would agree with me on that?

5:35 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

David R. Mark said...
"It was a discrepancy that county elections superviosr Kathy Dent couldn't explain. But because there was no paper trail, voters had no way to prove that they had voted for Buchanan, Jennings, another candidate, or no candidate."


I just wanted to point out that undervoting occurred in '04 as well, in Democrat Jan Schneider's House race against Republican Representative Katherine Harris. There were more than 12,000 undervotes at that time, so it doesn't appear to be all that uncommon in that district.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention this minor detail. Those contesting the results want a court to declare Ms. Jennings the winner by using "statistical models to extrapolate that she would have received most of the undervotes." :rolleyes:

And if they don't succeed in getting what they want THAT way, they'll settle for nullifying the November results and holding a new election, and hope that they can take the seat THAT way.

Come on. I am looking for one of you guys to side with me and say this is not the way things ought to be done. Hello? Is there anybody out there? Just nod if you can hear me ... ;)

6:10 PM  
Anonymous whoop4467 said...

I did hurt myself today when falling out of my chair when I read that Trinity agreed with David on the voting problem! Notice though she backed up a little when she indicated that district had previous problems( the K Harris affect of losing votes)that must be haunting that district! But, way to go Trinity! We agree that our form of representative republic is best served by all votes being counted properly: no more, no less than the # of votes that were really cast!

Gosh, we can send people to the moon and back safely 99% of the time. Solving the voting problem has to be easier. Sounds to me like there are people that do not want a fool proof voting system!

My wife and I have used banking and credit cards for over 30 years and not had the problem with those that our nation has with voting. I can only remember one instance where I had a problem with my credit card bills other than erroneous late charges or fees. We each have our own credit cards that we use for 99% of everything we purchase( excluding house and cars). I currently do not remember ever having a problem with my bank deposits and withdrawals. I keep a close eye on my money!

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Dave G. said...

I just wanted to point out that undervoting occurred in '04 as well, in Democrat Jan Schneider's House race against Republican Representative Katherine Harris. There were more than 12,000 undervotes at that time, so it doesn't appear to be all that uncommon in that district.

This is a perfect example of why the whole 'state's rights' thing is sometimes a load of horsepucky. Because it's clear these idiots need someone to come in and say, "You can't do anything right. You're a bunch of damned children."

As for the race itself, I'm for recounts and investigations until it's determined that the undervotes cannot be located in any way through looking at the source code - which the company has not acceded to, and should, proprietary software be damned. Once this step is taken -- and yes, this step needs to be taken -- and we've got the last verifiable way of seeing if the results are or are not there, or what, then, and only then, do I agree with you, trinity. Before that, I do not, because the "audits" that are being conducted are tests of the machines now to see if they're working properly. Which tells nobody anything about what happened on elecdtion day.

Once that part happens, then yes - the results should be accepted, and we move on. But it's like 3 elections too many for this kind of crap, to be perfectly honest.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention this minor detail. Those contesting the results want a court to declare Ms. Jennings the winner by using "statistical models to extrapolate that she would have received most of the undervotes." :rolleyes:

>>

That's not a mainstream Democrat desire. There was some talk that Pelosi could award the seat to Jennings and call for a special election. That won't happen, either.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous trinity said...

whoop4467 said...
"I did hurt myself today when falling out of my chair when I read that Trinity agreed with David on the voting problem!"


lol whoop. But I'm pretty sure this subject came up at least once before on this blog, and I basically said the same thing. We need a reliable, trustworthy election system. Period. Why would I not agree with David on an issue he's gotten right? ;)

"Notice though she backed up a little when she indicated that district had previous problems"

I'm not sure why my stating an accurate, historical fact should be characterized by you as "backing up a little", whoop, but, whatever....

Sounds to me like there are people that do not want a fool proof voting system!

I've often wondered about that myself.

With regard to which candidate may have benefitted most from those undervotes, I don't see where there is anything to indicate that it would have been Democrat Christine Jennings, do you?

According to that article I posted, Sarasota is the largest and most Republican county in the district. In spite of that, Jennings won, even though she lost in every other county in the district.

That would seem to indicate that Republican voters were most likely responsible for the majority of those undervotes, and that they probably refrained from voting in that particular race intentionally, rather than the undervotes being the result of some sort of computer glitch.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...
"That's not a mainstream Democrat desire. There was some talk that Pelosi could award the seat to Jennings and call for a special election. That won't happen, either."


That would be welcome news. There should be at least some modicum of fairness and decency exercised here. I know that Jennings has been called on to concede, but so far has not done so. Lacking any evidence of voter machine malfunction, prolonging this process only results in eroding already shaky voter confidence.

As far as this effort of Jennings, I'm not sure how non-mainstream it really is. Unless, of course, Democrats secretly consider the ACLU and People for the American Way to be on the fringe???

1:39 PM  

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