Florida: Court Hears Arguments on Voting Law
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By Kathleen Haughney, New Service of Florida
March 10, 2009
Originally posted here.
The Florida Supreme Court
heard arguments Tuesday over whether individual counties should be able
to require different election standards than the state imposes.
The case stems from an amendment passed in Sarasota County in 2006 that
banned touch screen voting machines in the county and required that 5
percent of the voting returns be audited within 24 hours of the
election. Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning said that state law
pre-empted the local law and that the auditing process would interfere
A smaller audit is typically done after election results are certified
in each county.
Peter Antonacci, an attorney for Browning, argued that allowing
individual counties to overrule the state could cause confusion and
create a situation where auditors could interfere with an elections
supervisor's ability to certify the election and announce the winners.
"Do you have 68 rules for auditing, and recounting or do you have one
rule, uniformity?" said Antonacci.
Many members of the court said they understood why local governments
might want a stricter election code, but worried how it could affect
election results and whether it would spur a rash of lawsuits from
candidates who decide to challenge the results.
"It seems to me that (a more extensive auditing requirement) is the
equivalent of a partial recount," Chief Justice Peggy Quince said. But
later she added that she wasn't sure there was a reason a community
couldn't have a stricter code than the state.
Thomas Shults, an attorney for Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections,
Inc., told the court that the stricter audit standards would simply
provide the process with greater accountability. If it turns out the
voting machines are malfunctioning, Shults said, the public needs to
know. He also noted that audits are not done strictly by voting
officials. Candidates can audit results as well in the presence of
someone from the elections supervisor's office.
"Anyone can go in and audit," he said.
The court doesn't have a timetable for when it might rule in the case.
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