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2006 HOUSE RACE FINALLY ENDS IN 2008

A congressional panel dismisses a challenge.

The congressional task force investigating the contested election for the Sarasota-area U.S. House seat dismissed the case Friday, ending a yearlong saga that helped push electronic voting machines out of Florida.

In November 2006, Democrat Christine Jennings narrowly lost to Republican Vern Buchanan in the race to fill the House seat vacated by Republican Rep. Katherine Harris.

But 18,000 people in a Democratic-leaning area of the district who voted in other races on the ballot that day for some reason never registered a vote in the House race. Jennings claimed that faulty touch screen voting machines were to blame after several voters insisted they had tried to vote for her, but the machines wouldn't let them.

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Friday morning, the House Administration Committee's election task force unanimously voted to dismiss the case after receiving a Government Accountability Office report saying that independent tests had concluded "with reasonable assurance" that the voting machines were not to blame for the large number of missing votes.

Several national election experts, meanwhile, have suggested that poor ballot design caused voters to overlook the House race.

"This investigation served a critical role in fulfilling the House's constitutional responsibility when seating members of Congress," said Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, chairman of the task force.

"From the beginning, this task force deemed it necessary to have a thorough, independent, nonpartisan review of the contested election, and that is exactly what the GAO provided."

The task force's decision needs approval from the House Administration Committee and the full House, but that approval is likely. Jennings, a banker who is running against Buchanan again this year, issued a statement saying she accepted the verdict.

Jennings also said she believed her challenge "achieved real results" for Florida voters because touch screen voting machines are now banned in the state.

Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0577.

The congressional task force investigating the contested election for the Sarasota-area U.S. House seat dismissed the case Friday, ending a yearlong saga that helped push electronic voting machines out of Florida.

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