Finding the Source
Unanswered questions in the Sarasota voting case

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

IT SEEMS AS though the midterm elections were held longer ago than November. So it's understandable -- particularly with the start of a new year -- that there is a tendency to want to move on. But it would be wrong to let such impatience decide the case of the disputed election for Florida's 13th Congressional District seat.

A mere 369 votes decided the race in favor of Republican Vern Buchanan, but there was an unusually high number of undervotes, or instances in which no vote was recorded. Reviews thus far suggest a poorly designed ballot as one possible culprit, but there also were troubling voter reports of machine malfunctions. While post-election tests revealed no equipment problems, there has been no definitive finding, and suspicions have arisen about this hotly contested race. It's also fast become part of the national debate on whether electronic voting can be trusted.

Christine Jennings, the losing Democratic candidate, and a group of Florida voters went to court with a simple request that could have cleared up the mystery. They sought access to the voting machines' "source code" so that an outside expert could conduct an independent review under strict conditions set by a court monitor. Unfortunately, a Florida judge denied the request last week, partly because the information is proprietary.

More than a winning commercial formula is at stake here. Hopefully the appeals court will see that the public good would be well served by getting to the bottom of this case. If not, the dispute is headed for what probably will be a very ugly -- and ultimately unsatisfying -- outcome in the House of Representatives.

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