The Times Jumps to a Pro-Democrat Conclusion on Fla. Voting Machines

Inside Friday's lead story from Abby Goodnough and Christopher Drew, "Florida Shifting To Voting System With Paper Trail - Bipartisan Endorsement - Ballot Change May Signal the National Demise of Touch Screens," the Times leaped to a pro-Democratic assumption it has hinted at in two previous stories - that faulty touch-screen voting machines may have cost a Democrat a congressional seat last November.

"In Sarasota County last November, more than 18,000 voters who used touch-screen machines did not have their votes recorded in the close Congressional race between Vern Buchanan, the Republican, and Christine Jennings, the Democrat. Mr. Buchanan took office last month after a recount gave him a 369-vote victory, but Ms. Jennings has sued."

But we don't know that voters "did not have their votes recorded." Even a pro-Democrat story by the Times on the race, from December 30, didn't go that far: "Paperless electronic voting machines used in the district recorded a significant percentage of what are known as 'undervotes': some 18,000 ballots, or about 15 percent of the total cast in the district, registered votes in races for other offices but not in the House contest."

It's possible for voters to vote for other offices but fail to choose a candidate for Congress, whether by mistake or by intent. By assuming, as the Times did Friday, that those 18,000 voters did choose a candidate for Congress, is to play into pro-Democratic arguments in a race still being contested by Democrats in court.

Journalist Byron York addressed Democratic talking points in the December 31, 2006 edition of National Review:

"The only problem was, there was no evidence anything had gone wrong with the machines. As the wrangling went on, a group of three political scientists - James Honaker and Jeffrey Lewis of UCLA and Michael Herron of Dartmouth - began to look into the matter. They found no evidence of machine malfunction, either, and instead argued that the problem was most likely a confusing ballot design in Sarasota County's machines. The ballot for the 13th District was on the same screen as that for the Florida governor's race. The governor's ballot was bigger, had more candidates, and took up most of the screen, the researchers found, and that most likely distracted voters' eyes from the Buchanan-Jennings race.

"That theory was supported by the fact that in other counties, the 13th District race was given its own screen - and there was not an unusually high number of undervotes. Also, in those other counties, when two other races were packed onto the same screen, there was an increased number of undervotes. 'We conclude with what we believe is a simple and conservative implication of our main finding' the authors wrote: 'iVotronic touchscreen voting systems should not combine important races on the same voting page.'

"It was as simple as that. There was no malfunction and no sabotage."