Statement delivered at news conference in Sarasota by Reggie Mitchell, Florida Legal Counsel for PFAW Foundation
We are here today because a great injustice appears to have occurred in the election to represent Florida’s 13th Congressional District. More than 18,000 Floridians who cast ballots in this district did not have votes recorded in the congressional race. That number is far too large and far too out of sync with the numbers in neighboring counties.
And in fact, dozens upon dozens of voters have reported just to our organization alone problems trying to vote in the congressional race. Many of our colleagues and coalition allies have received similar reports. Something clearly went very wrong in Sarasota County.
Neither the machine recount nor the manual recount will address this problem. You can’t re-count votes that were never cast due to a faulty ballot design, or that somehow “disappeared” between the screen the voter touched and the summary screen at the end of voting. A recount does not address the fact that some 18,000 people apparently were denied their right to vote in this race.
So today, we want to announce that we will hold a public hearing tomorrow night, asking people who had trouble voting to come forward and tell their stories. It will be at 6:00 p.m. at the Hyatt Hotel downtown, in the ballroom.
We have two main goals. First, to keep the spotlight on this issue while the voters still have fresh recollections of what happened, Second, to build a record for election reform, not just here in Sarasota County, but statewide in Florida. It’s ironic that the people of Sarasota County actually overwhelmingly approved a measure for election reform – a paper trail that voters can verify themselves before leaving the polling place. It’s a reform that comes too late for this election. And of course, we now know that similar problems occurred in three other Florida counties in the attorney general’s race.
It’s even more ironic that this is the race to replace Katherine Harris – one of the most controversial figures in the voting debacle of 2000. This is the race that has produced one of the most disturbing voting anomalies of 2006, and thrust Florida into the spotlight again.
In the past two elections, we’ve seen voter purges that have knocked eligible African American voters off the rolls. We’ve seen ballot designs that caused elderly ladies to vote for Pat Buchanan by mistake. And now, Florida is the state where somehow, some way, 18,000 votes in a congressional race didn’t get recorded. That’s more votes than decided the two closest U.S. Senate races – combined. Clearly, such large numbers could affect the outcome of the congressional race in Florida.
This has got to stop. We can't trust our votes to machines that your local bank wouldn't trust to give out cash.
We have called on Supervisor Dent and state election officials to find a solution that will allow county residents who voted on November 7 to return to the polls for a re-vote in the congressional race. And now, we’re asking voters to come forward, tell their stories, and help us build a case for election reform.
People For the American Way Foundation is pleased to join in this hearing with Common Cause, the Florida Fair Elections Committee and others to advocate for the rights of voters in Sarasota County and throughout Florida.