Election Challenge For Florida District Is Taken to the House

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, December 24, 2006

A battle over who won the congressional election in Florida's 13th District is in the courts and could be debated in Congress itself.

Christine Jennings, the Democrat, informed Congress last week that she was contesting the election, claiming that electronic voting machines malfunctioned and that state officials wrongly certified the election in favor of Republican Vern Buchanan. She also filed a lawsuit asking for access to the source code of the machines, manufactured by Election Systems & Software Inc.

Two weeks after the Nov. 7 election, the state certified Buchanan as the winner by 369 votes. Jennings wants a new vote. If she prevails, the Democratic gains in the midterm elections will increase to 31 House seats.

On Election Day, 18,000 Sarasota County voters who went to the polls registered no choice in the congressional race. Jennings argued that that was evidence of a machine glitch, but the state indicated that it found no evidence of one. ES&S also rejected her argument, and Buchanan said she should concede.

On Wednesday, Jennings officially contested the election with the House Administration Committee, which usually does not take any action until an election dispute moves through the courts. Buchanan has 30 days to respond. He is likely to be sworn in next week.

Jennings's challenge, which has highlighted long-standing concerns this year about the reliability of electronic voting technology, faces long odds against success. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, most of the 105 contested elections since 1933 have been decided against the challenger.

ES&S has opposed sharing its programming code, saying that it is confidential and that its machines elsewhere worked just fine.

La. House Seat at Risk

Population estimates released by the Census Bureau last week suggest that the loss of population in Louisiana from Hurricane Katrina could result in the state's losing one of its seven congressional seats, according to Election Data Services Inc., a consulting firm.

According to the analysis, 2006 population estimates would give five states -- Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Utah -- an additional seat each in Congress, while Texas would gain two seats. Seven states would lose seats -- Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This year, Georgia and Nevada joined the list of states that would gain seats, while Massachusetts and Louisiana joined the list of states that would lose seats.

These estimates are based on 2006 figures, not 2010 figures, which ultimately will provide the basis for Congress to allocate seats to each state. But the estimates show a general trend in population growth and its impact on the political map.

New Note in Vilsack Story

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination, said Friday that he received a letter that could help him find his birth mother. Vilsack, who was adopted in Pittsburgh shortly after he was born 56 years ago, said he would think over what to do with the material.

"You have to have time to think about things like this," said Vilsack, according to the Associated Press. "This is a decision nobody else can make."

Vilsack has already made his life story a part of his campaign persona. He was adopted at a young age and then grew up with a mother who battled alcoholism and a father who had financial difficulties. At a time when voters are forming their basic views of presidential candidates, the new development, if pursued, could spark great interest in Vilsack's life story.

Vilsack said the letter recently arrived at his Des Moines campaign offices from a nun who worked at a home for unwed mothers. "It was a place for young women [to] go to have their babies and then decide whether to leave them there," Vilsack said, according to the AP. He added that the letter said birth records are still available if he wants them.

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