U.S. congressional actions regarding contested elections

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On occasion, defeated candidates in congressional races will contest their defeat for a particular reason. These contestations are initially handled by the House Committee on House Administration, and then by the House itself. This pages deals with these efforts.

Contents

110th Congress

Florida's 13th District -- Democratic candidate Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan

18,000 votes not counted; results contested

Initial results of the November 7, 2006 election showed Democratic candidate Christine Jennings losing to Republican Vern Buchanan by 370 votes. Following a manual recount, Buchanan was shown to be leading by 369 votes, and the Florida Election Canvassing Commission certified this result.

Immediately following the election, however, Jennings filed a lawsuit asking that a new election be ordered, and cited statistical and eye witness evidence that touch-screen voting machines in Sarasota county had malfunctioned during the election. Between 17,000 and 18,000 Sarasota county voters failed to select a candidate in the race, a rate over six times higher than in other areas of the district, and thus the 17-18,000 votes were not counted. Jennings won the counted vote in Sarasota county 53%-47%, making the 18,000 votes not counted more likely to affect her overall vote count than her opponents'. In election administration terminology, this is known as an "undervote" and may indicate a failure of Sarasota's direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines.[1]

Congressional action

In January 2007, Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), the new chair of the House Committee on House Administration, dispatched a letter to the Florida First District Court of Appeals regarding the election on behalf of Jennings. Millender-McDonald warned that "if the courts did not adequately investigate the case then Congress would be forced to get involved." One of the actions Millender-McDonald called for was granting Jennings access to the "hardware and software (including the source code) needed to test the contestant's central claim: voting machine malfunction." [2]

In February 2007, Jennings filed a brief asking for outside expert access to Sarasota County voting machines’ hardware, software and source code. The brief stated that, "parties on both sides agree that an abnormally high undercount skewed the results and that statistics can never determine if a machine malfunction contributed to the undervote." [3]

On March 16, 2007, House Administration Committee Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers shot down a suggestion that the committee examine the contested election. Ehlers cited the standard of allowing states to complete their reviews before the committee takes up a case as the reason for dismissing the suggestion. [4]

Special investigative task force created

On May 2, 2007, the House Administration Committee created a special task force to investigate the 18,000 ballot undervote in Florida's 13th district's 2006 election. [5]

On June 14, 2007, the task force voted to move forward with a review plan crafted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), with July 27, 2007, as a target completion date. The GAO review plan would have four goals:

  • Discern "to what extent could the voting machines have contributed to the large undervote."
  • Determine what voting equipment was used and the manner in which it was used.
  • Assess the scope of the undervote.
  • Discover what reviews into the voting system's veracity were conducted before the election.

The committee's vote also sped up the GAO's timeline--the investigation was initially set to conclude in September--as a shorter investigation with findings in Jennings' favor made it more likely that she might assume the contested House seat.[6]

Florida’s 21st District

On January 3, 2007, Frank J. Gonzalez, a defeated candidate in Florida’s 21st Congressional District, contested his loss on the basis that the electronic voting machines used did not accurately record votes cast. In support of this argument, he asserted that the electronic voting machines produced unreliable and incorrect results based on a theory that these machines were hacked or had their data tabulations altered by electronic means. He also alleged that an accurate recount of the votes could never be conducted because the electronic voting machines used in this election were not equipped with a verified voter paper audit trail. Further, he contended that the vote totals were unreliable based on his assertions that the Supervisor of Elections for Broward County failed to comply with certain testing and fielding requirements for electronic voting machines pursuant to Florida law. [7]

His contest was dismissed by the House via a voice vote on June 12, 2007. [8]

Florida’s 24th District

On December 20, 2006, Clint Curtis, a defeated candidate in Florida’s 24th Congressional District, contested his loss on the basis of alleged irregularities associated with the electronic voting machines used in the election. Specifically, he alleged that the electronic voting machines did not record accurately the votes cast. In support of this argument, Curtis asserted that the electronic voting machines produced unreliable and incorrect results based on his belief that these machines were hacked and the software manipulated. He also contended that an accurate count of the votes cast can never be discerned because the electronic voting machines used in this election were not equipped with a verified voter paper audit trail. Lastly, he contended that the failure of local boards of election to put into place necessary procedural safeguards compromised the election results.[9]

His contest was dismissed by the House via voice vote on June 12, 2007.[10]

Florida’s 5th District

On January 3, 2007, John Russell, a defeated candidate in Florida’s Fifth Congressional District, contested his loss on the basis that the official election results were incorrect because of purported irregularities associated with the electronic voting machines used the election. Specifically, he alleged that the electronic voting machines did not record votes cast accurately. In support of this argument, he asserted that the electronic voting machines produced unreliable and incorrect results based on a theory that these machines were hacked or had their data tabulations altered by electronic means. Further, he contended that an accurate recount of the votes could never be discerned because the electronic voting machines used in this election were not equipped with a verified voter paper audit trail.[11]

His contest was dismissed by the House via voice vote on June 12, 2007.[12]

Louisiana’s 4th District

On December 20, 2006, Patti M. Cox, a defeated candidate in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District, contested her loss on the basis that her opponent was not, when elected on November 7, 2006, an inhabitant of the state of Louisiana within the meaning of the Qualification clause of the US Constitution.[13]

His contest was dismissed by the House via voice vote on June 12, 2007.[14]

Articles and resources

See also

References

  1. Staff Reports, "Jennings challenges 369-vote loss in congressional race," Associated Press accessed via the Herald Tribune, Nov 20, 2006.
  2. Paul Kiel, "FL-13: Dem Sends Shot across The Bow," TPMmuckraker.com, January 8, 2007.
  3. Aaron Blake, "Jennings files brief," Hill News, February 21, 2007.
  4. Aaron Blake, "Ehlers rebuffs Democrats on Fla.-13," The Hill, March 16, 2007.
  5. Patrick O'Connor, "House to probe Fla. 13 results", Politico, May 2, 2007.
  6. Aaron Blake, "Review of contested election advances," The Hill, June 15, 2007.
  7. Robert McElroy, “Managing America: Elections,” TheWeekInCongress, June 15, 2007.
  8. Robert McElroy, “Managing America: Elections,” TheWeekInCongress, June 15, 2007.
  9. Robert McElroy, “Managing America: Elections,” TheWeekInCongress, June 15, 2007.
  10. Robert McElroy, “Managing America: Elections,” TheWeekInCongress, June 15, 2007.
  11. Robert McElroy, “Managing America: Elections,” TheWeekInCongress, June 15, 2007.
  12. Robert McElroy, “Managing America: Elections,” TheWeekInCongress, June 15, 2007.
  13. Robert McElroy, “Managing America: Elections,” TheWeekInCongress, June 15, 2007.
  14. Robert McElroy, “Managing America: Elections,” TheWeekInCongress, June 15, 2007.

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