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Machine tests set in disputed vote

Published November 23, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Ten touch screen voting machines, including five actually used in a congressional election decided by only 369 votes, will be tested next week, a Department of State spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Five backup machines prepared for the Nov. 7 election in Sarasota County but not deployed will be tested Tuesday. Five more actually used will be tested Friday, said Jenny Nash, the department's deputy chief of staff for communications.

Republican Vern Buchanan has been declared the winner of the race to succeed Rep. Katherine Harris in Florida's 13th Congressional District. Democrat Christine Jennings is contesting the election in a lawsuit, contending the iVotronic machines malfunctioned.

The state's audit is aimed at finding out why no votes were recorded in the race on about 18,000 ballots cast in Sarasota County. That resulted in an undervote rate about six times as great as in the district's other four counties.

Jennings wants both tests to be conducted with machines actually used in the election.

"We need to restore public confidence in the voting system," said Kendall Coffey, a lawyer for Jennings, in a statement issued by her campaign. "To do that, it's absolutely critical to test the machines that were actually part of the problem."

Nash said machines containing votes cannot be tested Tuesday because that's still within a 10-day period for contesting the election.

The audit is being conducted separately from the lawsuit, but the results may be used as courtroom evidence.

For both sets of tests, each campaign was allowed to choose two machines and a fifth was selected by the audit team. Jennings picked machines with high undercounts while Buchanan asked that his selections be done randomly although those, too, had high undercounts, Nash said.

Circuit Judge William Gary on Tuesday in Tallahassee refused to let Jennings do her own testing but ordered that experts chosen by both candidates be allowed to observe.

[Last modified November 22, 2006, 23:00:16]

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