Tuesday, December 05, 2006

FL-13 Update: Looks Like Bad Ballot Design

A number of election experts have concluded - or come close to concluding - that bad ballot design was the cause of the unusually high undervote in FL-13. It also appears that the majority of the undervote ballots were from staright ticket voters - those looking for either DEM or REP, instead of candidate names. In other words, careless voters.

A Herald-Tribune analysis of every ballot cast shows these loyal party voters -- on both sides of the aisle -- were largely responsible for the massive undervote in Sarasota's House District 13 race. Nearly 60 percent of the 18,000 undervotes in that race came from people who otherwise did their best to ensure their party's candidate won.

The bizarre trend has convinced a growing number of election experts that the most important factor in the undervote was bad ballot design --
This theory poses problems for both Jennings and Buchanan:
For Buchanan, blaming the undervotes on inattentive voters would essentially be an acknowledgment that he would have lost but for the design of the ballot.

And a ballot design that caused voter confusion is a legal dead end for Jennings. Her lawsuit specifically shoots down ballot design in favor of machine error.
State auditors have yet to settle on any particular explanation for the undervote, so we continue to wait the results of their audit.

If ballot design is determined to be the culprit, it does not bode well for Jennings' lawsuit.
The prospect that bad ballot design caused 18,000 missing votes in a Sarasota congressional race could make Democrat Christine Jennings’ fight for a new election tougher.

Legal experts say convincing a judge to order a new election is dicey even if you can prove fraud or counting errors. But arguments over ballot design are among the hardest to win.

“It would be difficult for the plaintiffs to prevail if that’s what the problem is,” said Jon Greenbaum, voting rights director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “You’re always in a better situation if you can say clearly what went wrong.”

Experts doubt that would convince judges to overturn the election.

“A court is not going to say if the ballot was different, people would have voted another way,” said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org.

Former Florida Attorney General Jim Smith, who also was Secretary of State, said a judge may tell Jennings’ attorneys it’s too late to challenge the ballot.

“This ballot layout was obviously a problem, but when you balance that against the fact the candidates get to look at the ballot and the parties get to look at it before the election, and say it looks OK to them, I don’t know how you get it done,” he said.
Though this looks good for Buchanan, its not over yet. Look for this to drag on for a few more weeks.

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