Congress Asked To Probe Fla. House Race

Republican Vern Buchanan talks to the media during a news conference outside the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections office Monday afternoon, Nov. 20, 2006, in Sarasota, Fla., where he asked Democrat Christine Jennings to accept the recount vote and concede the 13th Congressional election.
AP
By CBS News Producers Phil Hirschkorn and Allison Davis..

Florida Democrat Christine Jennings is asking the House of Representatives to investigate — and potentially invalidate — her disputed Nov. 7 loss to Republican Vern Buchanan, which Jennings blames on faulty electronic voting machines.

Jennings filed papers with the House Administration Committee Wednesday, the same day a Florida judge concluded two days of hearings into whether the touch-screen machines made by ES&S and used in Florida's 13th congressional district malfunctioned. Jennings is suing for a new election.

Six weeks after Election Day, this is the only one of 435 House races where the declared loser has not conceded. The outcome won't change the balance of power, where Democrats gained 30 seats and will control 233 seats to the Republicans 202 in January.

Buchanan, who has 30 days to respond to Jennings' petition, will be sworn in Jan. 4 and serve as the district's congressman while the legal process and House investigation move forward.

"This is not about Democrats and Republicans or Christine Jennings and Vern Buchanan, it's about fixing a system that appears to be broken," Jennings said. "One-third of all Floridians use the iVotronic machines by ES&S. Voters need to have confidence that their vote will count and be counted accurately."

Nationwide, about 40 percent of voters used touch-screen machines made by a variety of manufacturers in November, but Florida is one of 15 states that used machines that do not generate an internal paper trail for every ballot cast. Stalled legislation to mandate a paper trail is expected to get new life in the next Congress.

Officially, after a recount, Buchanan beat Jennings by 369 votes out of nearly 240,000 counted.

Jennings contends machines in the district's most populous county, Sarasota, either malfunctioned or were poorly programmed, resulting in nearly 18,000 lost votes. One out of six, or an unusually high 16 percent, of Sarasota electronic ballots recorded no House vote, compared to a 5 percent or less House "undervote" in the district's four other counties or by 2 percent of Sarasota voters using paper absentee ballots.

Since Jennings won 53 percent of the votes in Sarasota, she contends the alleged machine mishap cost her the race. Applying her winning percentage to the "missing" votes would garner her more than 900 votes, enough to overcome the losing margin.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean has said the House should "absolutely not" seat Jennings. A spokesperson for House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi has said the leadership is monitoring the situation and called the Jennings filing appropriate.

"The Federal Contested Elections Act was written specifically to address such serious situations -- where thousands of voters may have been denied participation in the election and the outcome is in doubt," said Brendan Daly, a Pelosi spokesman. "However, we hope that this case is resolved satisfactorily in the Florida legal system, based on all facts."

State Judge William Gary, in Tallahassee, has heard two days of testimony whether experts can examine the machines – both the hardware and software, known as the source code. ES&S opposes this, citing trade secrets, and blames the visual design of the ballot by county election officials as the problem.

Judge Gary is expected to issue his ruling on the request for access to the machines on Friday.

From 1933 to 2005, the House has considered 105 contested election cases, but has reversed the results only three times, according to the Congressional Research Service.