House rejects claim that vote machines failed in Florida race

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 25, 2008 

WASHINGTON — With little discussion, the House late Monday dismissed Democrat Christine Jennings' claim that malfunctioning touch-screen voting machines in Florida cost her election to Congress in November 2006.

More than 18,000 eletronic ballots in Sarasota County failed to record a vote in Jennings' race against Republican Vern Buchanan, who won by fewer than 400 votes to replace former Rep. Katherine Harris, a Republican.

Jennings said the machines had malfunctioned. But the House dismissed the complaint by unanimous consent after congressional investigators found no evidence to support Jennings' claim.

Jennings appealed to Florida courts and to the House of Representatives, which swore Buchanan into office in January 2007 — after noting that his election was being contested.

But Republicans took to the House floor to note that no studies faulted the machines and that Buchanan could be seated without question.

"What the real reasons were we will never know, it could have been ballot design,'' Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Michigan, said of the 18,000 ballots that showed no vote in the congressional race. "But the simple fact is Mr. Buchanan did win the election and will remain as a member of the Congress. ... The result, I believe, is without question.''

The 2006 race was one of the most expensive in the country — and the investigation was likely one of the more costly, as it involved investigators from the Government Accountability Office spending time in Sarasota examining the machines and reviewing studies performed by the state.

Ehlers said the investigation into the disputed race is likely to serve as a model for future contested races that end up in Congress.

Though Congress is now out of the picture, the contest is by no means over: Jennings is seeking election against Buchanan. But she may have an uphill battle: Buchanan had raised $1.9 million for his re-election as of Dec. 31.

Jennings has said she appealed the loss to ensure integrity in the state's voting system. Her case, in part, spurred Florida to scrap touch screen machines in favor of paper ballots. But her campaign manager, Mitch Kates, informed by a reporter about the House vote, said Jennings is now focused entirely on 2008.

"That's all that we're thinking about," he said.

Buchanan's campaign sent out a statement after the vote, with attorney Hayden Dempsey noting the decision was bi-partisan.

"Today's vote sends a strong message to losing candidates that you can't overturn an election just because you don't like the outcome,'' Dempsey said.

Florida turned to requiring paper ballots in the wake of the 2006 race, but Republicans on the task force that looked into the matter suggested the investigation found that the much-maligned touch screen voting machines shouldn't be viewed as the culprit.

"Today's resolution will finally put Christine Jennings' challenge to rest for the people of the 13th District of Florida,'' said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "More importantly, we send a strong message to the American people that there was no malfunction of voting machines, and the results of the 2006 election in this particular election have been, and always were, correct.''

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