August 5, 2010
In Sarasota, Florida today, a four year long battle over real election accountability has come to a bitter end.
Way back in January, 2006, Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections started gathering petitions to qualify a charter amendment to appear on the November ballot, calling for paper ballots and mandatory audits of those ballots to verify proper functioning of voting machines within Sarasota County. They succeeded, but in August 2006, the battle began: Sarasota County Commissioners, the Supervisor of Elections, and the Florida Secretary of State joined together to file a lawsuit against SAFE, positing that the measure conflicted with state law and therefore their election accountability measure should not appear on Sarasota's ballot. SAFE won that case in September 2006, the referendum went on the ballot, and the measure easily passed with the help of voters of all political parties.
Current Florida law allows for only two percent of precincts to be audited, and the audit could apply to as little as only one item on the ballot. (And that's only after election results had been certified, when it's too late to change the results.)
Sarasota County's charter measure put real teeth into election accountability: it required an audit of 5 percent of precincts to be completed before certification. The audit was to be performed independently, and would include every item on the ballot.
But in the land of hanging chads, state election officials challenged the will of the voters in a protracted court fight which went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. The good news for voters was that in February of this year, the high court decided in favor of Sarasota's rigorous election audits.
But lawmakers, spurred on by election officials, went back to the drawing board, and in April, just two days before the end of the legislative session, passed a sweeping elections bill, preempting counties from having more rigorous election standards than the state. Again a court battle ensued, again a ruling issued, this time by Circuit Judge Charles Roberts, who this time sided with the state.
Today, Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections decided to throw in the towel over its court case, but met with the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners to get the Commission to adopt a resolution calling for continuing use of voter verified paper ballots for all voters of Sarasota County (as long as they are approved by the Florida Secretary of State.) The commission voted to move forward on SAFE's request.
SAFE President Kindra Muntz says only the battleground for safer Florida voting has changed, and that the group will now focus on changing state law to provide for more rigorous voting audits for all of Florida. "We suffered a setback when the State gave all powers over elections to itself in HB131, but we must press on for verified elections statewide, to preserve democracy in Florida and in this country. Voters need to know their votes count as cast. We need meaningful audits of ballots vs. machine counts at the very least. Democracy can't function with computerized voting and internet voting with no hard copy ballots. To what anonymous programmer will we be pledging allegiance?"
SAFE is expanding its efforts to call for state and national legislation regarding paper ballots and mandatory audits of machines. 62% of states in the U.S. do require voter verified paper records; 36% require audits.