Squeaker Races Approaching The Finish Line

Elections supervisor Bob Sweat holds up absentee ballots that were damaged, and duplicated so a scanner could read the result, during a vote recount Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006, at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office in Bradenton, Fla.
AP/Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Ten days after Election Day, the outcome is still in dispute in a handful of close contests for the House as election officials count and recount ballots from absentee voters and those who were challenged at the polls.

Election officials in New Mexico hoped to have certified results Monday, while a North Carolina recount was expected to wrap up Wednesday, and a dispute in Ohio over a new voter identification law will delay results in one race until past Thanksgiving weekend.

Elections in Louisiana and Texas will go to runoffs in December.

And in Florida, a judge is holding hearings over ballots used by electronic voting machines that recorded a much higher number of undervotes (or non-votes) in the close contest to replace GOP Rep. Katherine Harris. The Associated Press called that race for Republican Vern Buchanan.

The outcome of these races won't give Republicans a new chance to take back the majority in Congress that Democrats won Election Day, since Democrats have too big a margin of control. And most of the races are in seats already held by the GOP.

Right now, Democrats hold 232 seats and Republicans hold 198 seats — excluding five House seats where the outcome is uncalled (and not the Louisiana runoff, since it will remain Democrat regardless of who wins).

Still to be called are:

  • New Mexico, 1st District: Republican Rep. Heather Wilson's lead over Democrat Patricia Madrid shrank to fewer than 900 votes out of more than 200,000 cast. Officials hoped to finish counting fewer than 1,300 remaining votes by late Friday. A judge granted Bernalillo County an extension until Monday, though a county official said work was expected to wrap up Friday night.
  • North Carolina, 8th District: Rep. Robin Hayes, a Republican, led Democrat Larry Kissell by 339 votes after results were certified by county election boards Friday night. Kissell asked for a recount, which officials said would begin next week and conclude by Wednesday.
  • Ohio, 2nd District: Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican who called decorated Vietnam veteran Rep. John Murtha a coward, was ahead of Democrat Victoria Wulsin by about 2,800 votes. Workers were to begin counting as many as 10,000 provisional and absentee ballots next week.
  • Ohio, 15th District: Rep. Deborah Pryce, a member of the House Republican leadership, leads Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by 3,536 votes. Thousands of provisional ballots need to be recounted, but results won't be announced until Nov. 27 because of a dispute over a new voter identification law.

    In addition, runoffs will pick the officeholder in Louisiana, where Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, the subject of an FBI bribery investigation, will face fellow Democrat Karen Carter in a Dec. 9 runoff; and in Texas, where GOP Rep. Henry Bonilla will face Democratic former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez in a yet-unscheduled runoff to happen no sooner than Dec. 12.

    In North Carolina, attorneys for Hayes — a four-term congressman who found himself in a much closer race with Kissell, a schoolteacher — had petitioned to have most provisional ballots thrown out because of missing signatures, Social Security numbers or other mistakes. Provisional ballots are filled out by voters whose names do not show up on precinct rolls on Election Day, and Democrats are counting on those votes to erase Hayes' margin.

    In the Florida contest to replace GOP Rep. Katherine Harris, The Associated Press called the race for Republican Vern Buchanan. But the state has yet to certify he was the winner, with unofficial votes showing him ahead of Democrat Christine Jennings by less than 400 votes after a manual recount.

    Jennings said she will likely challenge the results after the Florida Election Canvassing Commission certifies the recount results on Monday.

    A judge is holding hearings in Sarasota County, where touch-screen voting machines recorded that 13 percent of voters did not choose either Buchanan or Jennings, despite casting ballots in other races on the ballot. That rate was much higher than other counties in the district.

    Jennings has seized on the fact that the machines showed over 18,000 people — one in eight voters — voted in other races, but made no choice in the congressional race. The undervote rate in Sarasota County was more than 10 percent greater than the rate in Manatee County, which doesn't use touch-screen machines and is the district's second largest county.

    Unofficial recount results showed Jennings beating Buchanan in Sarasota County by about 53 percent to 47 percent.

    "We are going to continue," said Jennings' attorney Kendall Coffey. "We need to know the truth about the software inside the systems. Fortunately, we have overwhelming statistical evidence that demonstrates machine failure. Fortunately, we have an almost unheard number of eyewitness accounts by voters from every walk of life."

    Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent said she was confident about the recount totals.

    "I'm offering no explanation," Dent said. "My job is done and the canvassing board is done."

    Buchanan says the recount confirmed initial results, and that the district's voters deserve closure.

    The touch-screen system was already unpopular. Sarasota County voters approved an initiative in the Nov. 7 election that will force the county to abandon the $4.5 million touch-screen system in favor of one that creates a paper trail before the 2008 election.