The most important battle in the effort to fix our dangerously dysfunctional electoral system is playing out on the west coast of Florida. In the race for the 13th Congressional District seat, which had been held by Katherine Harris–who exploited her position as Florida’s Secretary of State to tip the 2000 presidential recount in favor of George W. Bush–a mess has developed that almost makes the Bush-versus-Gore debacle of six years ago look like a model of electoral legitimacy.
Officially, Republican Vern Buchanan prevailed by a margin of 369 votes over Democrat Christine Jennings. But in Sarasota County, where Jennings won 53 percent of the votes that were counted, more than 18,000 votes have vanished. That’s right, 13 percent of the votes cast in that county November 7 have gone missing into the void created by an electronic voting system that generates no paper trail. Buchanan’s supporters want us to believe that almost one out of every eight voters in Sarasota County chose not to cast a ballot in a closely contested Congressional race. But other counties in the district reported a drop-off of only 2 to 5 percent.
Common Cause Florida has called for a revote in the county, as have other clean-government groups. There are precedents: Revotes have been ordered over the years at the county level and above for presidential, Congressional and local races. More important in this era of electronic voting, there is a need to establish a new precedent: Without the paper trail so necessary to a recount in a close contest, only a new and verifiable revote can restore the rapidly dwindling faith of voters in the electoral system that underpins our democracy.