TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State officials Monday certified Republican Vern Buchanan won the House seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, though the loser immediately sued for a new election, arguing that touch-screen voting machines had malfunctioned.
Democrat Christine Jennings contested her 369-vote loss in the 13th District, asking a judge to order a new election because of problems in Sarasota County, where more than 17,000 voters who cast ballots in other races Nov. 7 failed to vote in the congressional contest.
That rate is nearly six times higher than in the other counties in the congressional district or on Sarasota's paper absentee ballots, Jennings alleges in her legal challenge. Though she lost in the other four counties in the district, Jennings did well in Sarasota County, winning there by a 6 percentage point margin.
Jennings' lawyer, Kendall Coffey, said the "statistical evidence is based on numbers that cannot be seriously questioned." He said there were also eyewitness accounts of voting problems.
Buchanan, a wealthy auto dealer, said there was no evidence of machine malfunctions. He attributed the huge Sarasota undervote to angry voters turned off by negative campaigning.
"I guess the theory is if you don't win, sue," Buchanan said, urging Jennings to concede and "stop listening to the high-price lawyers and out-of-town special interest groups."
The lawsuit is not Jennings' final option. She also could appeal the results to the House, which will be under Democratic control next year.
Common Cause's Florida chairman, Walter Dartland, said a new election may be the only way to resolve the problems.
The state is conducting an audit of the Sarasota voting machines separate from the recount and legal challenge.
The audit will include a Nov. 28 test of machines prepared for but not used in the election. The machines that were used on Election Day cannot be accessed until the challenge period ends 10 days from Monday, said Secretary of State Sue Cobb.
Harris, a congresswoman since 2002, ran for U.S. Senate this year but lost to incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. She came to national attention six years ago when, as Florida's secretary of state, she presided over the 2000 presidential election recount that gave George W. Bush the presidency.
In 2001, Harris had pushed for an election overhaul that outlawed punch-card ballots and required counties to use touch-screen devices or optical scan machines that read paper ballots voters filled in.
Several other House races nationwide remain unresolved:
— In Ohio's 2nd District, a few counties began counting provisional and absentee ballots in the disputed race between GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican who called decorated Vietnam veteran Rep. John Murtha a coward, and Democrat Victoria Wulsin. Schmidt led by about 2,800 votes, though nearly 9,000 votes could remain to be counted in the district.
— In Ohio's 15th District, Republican incumbent Deborah Pryce was ahead of Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by more than 3,500 votes. Some 19,000 ballots remain to be counted, with results expected next week.
— In North Carolina's 8th District, election officials were recounting votes that last week gave Rep. Robin Hayes, a Republican, a 339-vote margin ahead of Democrat Larry Kissell. Kissell is considering a hand recount.