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Friday, Feb 23, 2007, 10:19 pm

Florida-13 Update

By Brian Zick
Christopher Drew for the Ny Times reports:
Florida election officials announced yesterday that an examination of voting software did not find any malfunctions that could have caused up to 18,000 votes to be lost in a disputed Congressional race in Sarasota County, and they suggested that voter confusion over a poor ballot design was mainly to blame.

A panel in Sarasota, Fla., said voter confusion over poorly designed ballots probably contributed to the loss of 18,000 votes in an election last fall. Above are the ballot’s first two screens, including the highlighting.

The finding, reached unanimously by a team of computer experts from several universities, could finally settle last fall’s closest federal election. The Republican candidate, Vern Buchanan, was declared the winner by 369 votes, but the Democrat, Christine Jennings, formally contested the results, claiming that the touch-screen voting machines must have malfunctioned.

Legal precedents make it difficult to win a lawsuit over ballot design, but a substantial error in the software might have been grounds for a new election.
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But other voting experts said that because the machines used in the election have been sequestered by a court, only a portion of them have been examined closely.

The software experts said they also found several security vulnerabilities in the programming for the voting machines, made by Election Systems and Software in Omaha. But the report said there was no evidence that any of them had affected the Sarasota race.

Edward W. Felten, a Princeton University computer scientist, wrote last night that the security weaknesses need to be fixed before this type of machine is used again. He also wrote: “The study claims to have ruled out reliability problems as a cause of the undervotes, but their evidence on this point is weak, and I think the jury is still out on whether voting machine malfunctions could be a significant cause of the undervotes.”

David Dill, a Stanford University professor who has been critical of the machines, added that the study “is an admirable, but limited, piece of work” and could not rule out all possible errors.
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