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In FL, missing e-votes cast doubt on House race

13 percent of voters in Sarasota County failed to cast a vote in hotly contested House contest. That's three to six times more than in nearby counties. A computer glitch or partisan tampering?
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Written by Richard Koman on

A Florida Democrat who lost his House race is seeking a recount after dozens of people reported problems using Sarasota County’s touch-screen voting machines and a significant number of ballots had no recorded votes in the high-profile race, The New York Times reports.

Christine Jennings lost to Vern Buchanan by just 373 votes out of 237,861 cast. But more than 18,000 voters in Sarasota County, or 13 percent of those who went to the polls Tuesday, did not seem to vote in the Congressional race when they cast ballots, a discrepancy that Kathy Dent, the county elections supervisor, said she could not explain.

It's a pretty weird voting pattern, considering that in one neighboring county only 2 percent skipped casting a vote in the House race. In another county, only 5 percent passed over the race. Even odder: Many of those who didn't vote for Representative did vote in obscure races like hospital board. In other words, either through glitch or malfeasance, a whole bunch of votes in the race disappeared.

“There is a spontaneous combustion of outcry in this county,” said Kendall Coffey, a lawyer who was on Vice President Al Gore’s legal team in the 2000 presidential recount and is now working for Ms. Jennings. “We are determined to do everything we can to make sure that every vote counts and everything we can to get to the bottom of this.”

Because of the closeness of the final tally there will be a recount. But, said an e-voting critic, you can't recount votes that don't exist.

Rebecca Mercuri, a computer scientist and an expert on voting technology in Hamilton, N.J., who has been critical of electronic voting, said it would be impossible to figure out voter intent in a recount of touch-screen votes.

“If a vote is not recorded electronically inside the machine for whatever reason, there’s no way to go back and recover it,” Ms. Mercuri said. “Chances are that nothing’s going to change, because those votes are gone.”

About 100 voters complained that when they voted the final review screen didn't show their votes for Jennings. The question is, how many voters walked away not realizing their attempts to vote failed. A further question: Did the glitch show up on attempts for both candidates, or just for Jennings?

Mike Lasche, a boat captain here, said that when he voted his vote for Ms. Jennings did not show up on the final review screen until he cast it a second time. “If I had not checked carefully I would have gone on without ever thinking about it,” said Mr. Lasche, 50. “You have to wonder how many people it happened to and may not have even noticed it.”

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