Secretary of State’s FL-13 Audit Report Whitewashes Clear Evidence of Voting Machine Problems in Sarasota

Report fails to account for eyewitness testimony pointing to machine malfunction; flawed audit process may be responsible

TALLAHASSEE—An audit report released by the Florida Secretary of State’s office regarding Sarasota County’s November election debacle came under fire shortly after its release today.

“This audit’s a whitewash. It is the result of a flawed process overseen by people with a stake in the outcome, and it will not be the last word on this matter,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “Something went terribly wrong in Sarasota County last November—and voters have provided credible evidence that widespread voting machine malfunctions were part of the problem. Unfortunately, this report papers over that evidence.”

Neas said his organization will continue pushing for answers for Sarasota County voters, both in the courts and in Congress. He also said that the Sarasota debacle and other 2006 election problems have led PFAW Foundation to make election reform its top legislative priority in 2007.

“When 18,000 votes inexplicably disappear, you can’t just pretend nothing went wrong,” Neas said. “People For the American Way Foundation and our voting rights partners will continue with our nonpartisan lawsuit seeking justice for Sarasota County voters, and with our efforts to bring about an investigation into this matter in Congress. Fundamental fairness compels a revote. In addition, we are working to enact reforms, such as the bill offered by Congressman Rush Holt, to ensure that this sort of thing never happens again.”

Neas pointed to numerous flaws in the audit that led to his criticism of the report released today. An overview of those flaws follows.

An overview of the Sarasota audit’s flaws

The state official in charge of the audit was prejudiced against finding problems. David Drury, the state official in charge of the audit, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that “they’re not going to find anything” before the source code review part of the audit began (12-05). Drury, who is chief of the Florida Bureau of Voting Systems Certification, had a clear conflict of interest: he is the official who certified the machines in the first place and his reputation depends on how they are seen as functioning.

That same official’s competence has been called into question. In addition to questions about his partiality, questions about Drury’s competence have been raised by his pre-election decision to authorize the distribution of uncertified voting machines. (See a complaint filed by the Florida Fair Elections Coalition here.)

The audit tested just ten voting machines—only five of which were used on Election Day. Approximately 1,500 iVotronic machines were deployed in Sarasota County on Election Day, but the parallel testing portion of the audit—the only part where machines were evaluated—involved only ten machines (AP 11-22). With such a small sample size, malfunctioning machines could easily have been missed.

The audit’s lack of independence was scrutinized and criticized by the press. The Palm Beach Post weighed in with an editorial calling for a more “credible” and “impartial” audit (11-22). A St. Petersburg Times news headline asked if this was “An audit to nowhere?” (11-27). And Miami Herald writer Fred Grimm wrote, “No one really thinks [the] paperless, virtual audit that begins today will find 18,300 votes that disappeared” (11-28).

The expert appointed to lead the source code review was a partisan paper trail opponent. Alec Yasinsac, who led the part of the audit reviewing the software that runs the voting machines, wore a button reading “Bush Won” while working against a recount in the 2000 presidential race. Yasinsac is an avowed opponent of voting machine paper trails and cannot be considered independent.

A critic of the audit was incorrectly listed by the Secretary of State’s office as one of the auditors, further undermining the audit’s credibility. Princeton University computer science professor Ed Felten, who has criticized the audit process and declined an invitation to take part, was incorrectly listed as a “principal investigator” for the audit in a document on the Secretary of State’s website (for more information, click here). If we can’t even rely on the auditors to tell us who’s on their team, how can we possibly rely on their conclusions about the voting machines?

People For the American Way Foundation is one of the organizations representing Republican, Democratic, and No Party voter plaintiffs in >a lawsuit seeking a revote in Sarasota County. The other organizations representing these plaintiffs are Voter Action, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the ACLU Foundation of Florida.

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