FL county muddles through the paper trail

Sarasota volunteers slowly count ballot summaries from e-voting machines. Since the summaries just register what the machine recorded, the recount is a "meaningless ritual," says expert.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

In Sarasota County, FL, where 18,000 ballots registered no votes for Florida's 13th Congressional District House race, dozens of recount volunteers are scrutinizing pieces of paper, seeking mathematical errors in the computerized tabulation of votes, The Miami Herald reports.

''It's a meaningless ritual,'' said David Dill, a Stanford University computer science professor and voting machine expert. ``This is their fig leaf to say they're complying with Florida's recount law.''
The volunteers are looking not at ballots - those don't exist when votes are cast in electronic machines - but ''ballot summaries."
Unlike actual paper ballots, with their notorious hanging chads, the printed ballot summaries reveal nothing new about a voter's intent, leaving very little for even the teams of partisan lawyers assembled here to argue about.

''We're doing this because it's a process required by statute,'' Republican lawyer Hayden Dempsey said with an almost apologetic roll of the eyes. ``Our opponents have raised baseless questions; hopefully, this will help restore people's confidence in the system.''

Democratic Party lawyer Alex Heckler is arguing the state is required to provide screen grabs, not mere summaries, for the recount effort. ''If that doesn't exist, we got some problems,'' Heckler said.

''Screen grabs?'' asked Kathy Dent, Sarasota supervisor of elections. ''For 140,000 individual votes? You can't get them. The machine doesn't have them. This is the audit trail we have,'' she said, gesturing to the room full of seniors bent over tables.
The troubled election is rapidly turning into a legal test case, which may be headed to the Supreme Court or Congress for a final say.
After a hearing on Thursday before Circuit Judge Deno Economou, lawyers for Secretary of State Sue Cobb said a planned state audit of the election had been delayed ''indefinitely.'' All the voting materials are to remain sequestered until the recount is complete. Cobb had planned to start the audit as early as Wednesday of this week.

Suspicions are rapidly being raised by Democrats that the problems have a clear Republican bias.

If it turns out that a disproportionate number of the undervotes came from people who voted a straight Democratic ticket in other races, ''then we will have sufficient proof to show something went wrong,'' Heckler said. ``That just wouldn't be logical.''
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