Speed inquiry, House urges

A task force wants a July deadline for investigation of Sarasota vote.

Published June 15, 2007

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. House task force asked federal investigators Thursday to speed up their inquiry into the disputed Sarasota area congressional race.

Investigators at the Government Accountability Office had initially said they could wrap up by September, but members of Congress asked for a July 27 target date instead.

"The sooner, the better," said Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, chairman of the task force.

Gonzalez said he will write to county and state officials, among others, asking them to cooperate with the investigation and do so quickly.

Republican Vern Buchanan was sworn in to the House in January, but Democrat Christine Jennings refuses to concede the 13th Congressional District race, disputing her loss in the Florida courts and in Congress.

At issue: More than 18,000 people, or 13 percent of all voters, did not record a vote in the race, a rate higher than in other counties in the district.

The state examined the machines and paid independent researchers to investigate before concluding that the computers were not faulty.

Jennings has asked Florida courts for access to the software of the voting machines known as the source code, but that request has been denied. The federal investigation, though, could include an examination of the source code.

Jennings, who was in Washington this week and attended the hearing, repeatedly described herself as excited that an investigation was finally set to begin seven months after the election.

"It's not about Vern Buchanan. It's not about Christine Jennings," she said. "It's always been about what happened to the voters in Sarasota County."

Jennings asked the Florida courts to hold off on ruling in her lawsuit until after the House investigation. That request was denied last week.

Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0576.