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Human errors found in vote test

Discrepancies in the first round of testing of Sarasota County's touch screen voting machines were the result of human error, not problems with the devices, state elections officials said Thursday.

The testing is in the congressional contest between Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings, who trails by a slim difference that she contends was caused by machines in this county losing thousands of votes.

Tuesday's test used scripts telling mock voters whom to choose, in an attempt to see whether the machines accurately record votes.

The test results didn't match the scripts in five cases in the District 13 congressional race, out of 251 ballots cast. But all five discrepancies were because mock voters didn't correctly follow the script instructions, said Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for Florida Secretary of State Sue Cobb.

"It's exactly as we expected," she said, adding that the errors were caught in a review of videotape footage of the audit.

The four machines tested so far were not used on Election Day. Officials will begin an audit today of machines actually used.

Sarasota County's elections chief requested the tests to determine whether the machines malfunctioned. The county's machines recorded more than 18,000 ballots with no choice made in the Jennings-Buchanan race on Election Day. That undervote rate was significantly higher than in the district's other counties.

Because Buchanan's lead is just 369 votes and Jennings beat him about 53 percent to 47 percent in Sarasota County, she argued that undervotes there cost her the race.

As Election Day has been followed by a string of recounts and audits, Buchanan has moved forward as the congressman-elect. But Jennings has refused to concede. In a legal challenge filed last week, her attorneys included accounts of voters who said the machines did not correctly record their votes.

Jennings spokeswoman Kathy Vermazen said Thursday that the state's findings confirm "the need for an independent audit."

On Thursday, voting machine manufacturer Election Systems & Software Inc. was added to the lawsuit.

The campaign hopes to gain access to the machines' program codes and to user manuals to perform further testing, Jennings attorney Kendall Coffey said.

Buchanan's campaign called again for Jennings to concede, saying it was a fair election.

"Her unfounded claims of a breakdown in the voting machines are completely discredited," said Buchanan spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts.