Election Law @ Moritz

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Edward B. Foley
Free & Fair is a collection of writings by Edward B. Foley, one of the nation's preeminent experts on election law.

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FL-13: Court issues injunction to preserve voting equipment

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November 14, 2006

The first court involvement has already occurred in the race for Florida’s 13th congressional district. In response to allegations that Sarasota County election officials were not following proper recount protocol, Democrat candidate Christine Jennings filed a petition for an injunction to stop the recount in order to preserve the voting machines and other electronic equipment.

Earlier today, Judge Deno Economou in the 12th Judicial Circuit of Florida granted the injunction, allowing independent audits by the candidates’ experts. The injunction was triggered by allegations of improper procedure by Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent. As reported in the Herald Tribune, during the recount, one of the dozens of election observers questioned the procedures that Dent was using. The recount was paused and then restarted 30 minutes later. However, due to the questionable procedures of the county election officials, Jennings’ attorneys filed an emergency petition with the Circuit Court to secure all voting machinery and data for possible further investigation. Jennings’ attorneys reportedlyclaimed that the suit was filed due to Dent’s failure to respond to a public records request seeking access to tape printouts, result tapes and other material.

The injunction not only delays the Sarasota county machine recount, but also the state’s own election audit. The Florida Secretary of State’s office did not object to the delay, and both the independent and state audit could now begin as early as next week.

Methodologically, the state plans to start “parallel election testing” with voting machines that weren’t used in the Nov. 7 election. The method for the independent audit to review the touchscreen system will be worked out between lawyers for Jennings, Republican Vern Buchanan and Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent. The unused machines will be used in tests by the candidates’ own experts to determine if they functioned properly in the hopes of establishing what caused the massive 18,000 vote “undervote” in Sarasota County.

If the county misses a recount deadline or fails to certify the vote count by Saturday, the final outcome will revert to the original election night totals: 119,116 for Buchanan versus 118,739 for Jennings.

Reported by Debra Milberg, Moritz Class of 2008. For earlier reports on this race, see here.