Ruling Impedes Search for Answers in Sarasota County Congressional Race

Tallahassee, Fla. - A bipartisan group of Florida voters today challenged a court ruling that is preventing a thorough, independent investigation into alleged voting machine failures in the state's 13th congressional district race.

The appeal asks for a reversal of last week's ruling that allowed electronic voting machine vendor Election Systems &amp Software (ES&ampS) to keep its software, hardware, and related documentation hidden from the voters -- even though experts from both sides agree that something went seriously awry during November's election.

"The court wrongly decided that the voters' legitimate demand to determine who won their election was less important than the remote possibility that an independent investigation by nationally-recognized experts would harm the trade secrets of the vendor," said Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "The court could easily have addressed the vendor's concerns the same way trade secret concerns are usually handled in litigation -- by simply issuing a protective order that set limited use of the information to the litigation. The judge had the power to protect the interests of all parties. Unfortunately, in this case, he decided not to use it."

According to the electronic voting machines used during the November general election, more than 18,000 people in Sarasota County -- approximately 15% of the voter turnout -- did not cast a vote for any congressional candidate for the hotly contested seat. Instead of performing a robust analysis of the county's voting machines and software, the Florida Elections Canvassing Commission certified Vern Buchanan as the winner by 363 votes.

The voter plaintiffs' appeal comes days after a key member of the House of Representatives weighed in on the disputed Florida congressional election, saying that not only the litigants but the House of Representatives itself would benefit from more open discovery. On Thursday, the incoming Chairwoman of the House Administration Committee -- which has the responsibility for evaluating any House election contest -- submitted a letter to the Florida First District Court of Appeal noting that the House's evaluation would be assisted by the creation of a complete record, including all relevant and critical evidence.

EFF, VoterAction, People for the American Way Foundation, and the ACLU Foundation of Florida represent 11 Sarasota voters seeking an investigation into likely voting machine malfunctions and a revote if lost votes cannot be recovered. The suit is nonpartisan and not affiliated with either candidate from the race.

For the full request for appeal:


Matt Zimmerman
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Related Issues