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There was already strong evidence that the worryingly high "undervote" in the congressional race in Florida's Sarasota County had skewed the results of the election there.

But The Orlando Sentinel actually went through nearly all of the roughly 18,000 ballots on electronic voting machines where voters had failed to register a vote in the congressional race, but had voted in the other races, and found that the voters were mostly Democrats.

From the Sentinel:

The group of nearly 18,000 voters that registered no choice in Sarasota's disputed congressional election solidly backed Democratic candidates in all five of Florida's statewide races, an Orlando Sentinel analysis of ballot data shows.

Among these voters, even the weakest Democrat -- agriculture-commissioner candidate Eric Copeland -- outpaced a much-better-known Republican incumbent by 551 votes....

Republican Vern Buchanan's 369-vote victory was certified by state officials Monday. His camp says that, although people may have skipped the race -- intentionally or not -- there is no evidence that votes went missing.

But the results of the Sentinel analysis, two experts said, warrant additional investigation.

"Wow," University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato said. "That's very suggestive -- I'd even say strongly suggestive -- that if there had been votes recorded, she [Jennings] would have won that House seat."...

The analysis of the so-called "undervotes" examined the races for U.S. Senate, governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.

The results showed that the undervoted ballots skewed Democratic in all of those races, even in the three races in which the county as a whole went Republican.

Legal Fight in Florida's 13th Could Stretch Into 2007 "The number of Nov. 7 House general elections in which the winner has not been firmly established has dwindled to four. But at least one of these, the controversy-plagued contest for the open seat in Florida’s 13th District, is unlikely to be decided for weeks — and even has the potential to kick off the Democratic-controlled 110th Congress in January with a dispute over whether to seat the certified winner.

"That candidate is Republican Vern Buchanan: The Florida secretary of state’s office yesterday certified the wealthy car dealer as the victor, by a margin of 369 votes, over Democrat Christine Jennings, a former bank president.

"Jennings immediately filed a lawsuit in Leon County, which is well north of the 13th District but includes the state capital of Tallahassee. The crux of Jennings’ complaint — which demands that a new election be called — is that there were more than 18,000 “undervotes” in Sarasota County, the district’s largest jurisdiction and the source of Jennings’ greatest electoral strength." (CQ Politics)

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In my earlier post on Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), I mentioned a cryptic conversation between the onetime federal judge and his friend which authorities later claimed was a "coded" dialog.

I linked to a Nov. 1 article by Roger Shuy, an academic specialist in linguistics and code. In the piece, Shuy identifies himself as the expert Congress asked to review the FBI recording of Hastings' odd chat and determine if he was really talking in code or not.

Shuy determined that he was. Read the post; it's a good story, and the expert's reasoning is interesting to follow.

I just got off the phone with Shuy, who has since left Washington for the wide Western expanses which, he said, are ideal for writing books.

"I always liked Alcee Hastings," Shuy told me. "When they asked me to do this, I said, 'Okay, but I hope you're wrong.' But I don't think they were."

Activist groups have filed a second lawsuit contesting the election results in Florida's 13th, arguing that electronic voting machines may have robbed voters of their true choice.

The suit, filed by watchdog groups Voter Action, People For the American Way Foundation, the ACLU of Florida, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, follows swiftly on Christine Jennings contest filed yesterday. You can read Jennings' suit here, which includes a number of voter testimonials about problems on Election Day.

Elliot Mincberg, Legal Director for PAWF, said that he expected the judge to consolidate the two suits and have them proceed together.

The lawsuits, however, comrpise just one of the avenues by which the election's results will be challenged.

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He may not be a former spy, but he's got better cred on intelligence issues than the outgoing House intelligence committee chair, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI). (Hoekstra's off-kilter ramblings have included charging CIA employees are al Qaeda sympathizers, and insisting WMDs still exist in Iraq after the White House has dropped the cause.) Besides, despite having little background in the cloak-and-dagger world, Hastings is said to have boned up on the subject since joining the intelligence panel in 1999.

So why do people think Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) isn't fit to lead the House intelligence committee?

The answer lies all the way back in 1981 -- when James Watt became Secretary of the Interior, the Berlin Wall was still up, disco wasn't yet ironic, and Alcee Hastings was a federal judge in Florida.

That year, according to Congress, Hastings and a friend tried to shake down a defendant facing trial in Hastings' courtroom for $150,000. In exchange, the two promised a reduced jail sentence and the return of over $800,000 in confiscated property.

A jury acquitted Hastings of criminal charges stemming from the scandal, but in 1989 a team of lawmakers -- including Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), among others -- prosecuted Hastings in Congress, and the Senate voted to strip him of his judgeship.

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Didn't the Democrats promise us an end to muck?

Yet mucked-up politicians keep surfacing as the new House majority struggles to choose its leaders. Last week, questionable corporate cozier Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) beat out Rep. John "No bribes for me -- right now" Murtha (D-PA) to be House majority leader.

Now, a battle royale is brewing over who's going to lead the House intelligence committee, and it too is hardly muck-free: one of the leading contenders for the position is a former federal judge who was impeached by Congress, while the other is under FBI investigation for improper relations with a lobby organization sporting foreign ties.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), with backing from the Congressional Black Caucus, may be the frontrunner for the position, if only because the would-be chair, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), is on the outs with the woman who gets to choose, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But Hastings has a past that seriously compromises his candidacy: In 1989, the Senate found Hastings guilty of soliciting a $150,000 bribe from defendants facing trial in his courtroom eight years earlier. Unlike some recent scandals, this was believed to have been a pretty simple scam: In exchange for the bribe, Hastings would throw the case.

Hastings' alleged accomplice, William Borders, was sent to prison for the scam. The evidence against Hastings himself was serious, but circumstantial -- a cryptic phone call, a fortuitous appearance at a restaurant on a certain date and time -- so he was acquitted of criminal charges. But a bipartisan congressional prosecution and impeachment removed him from the federal bench. (More on this later.)

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Here's your Defense Department's counterterrorism experts musing on the combustability of an antiwar protest in California:

Yup, "some type of vandalism is always a possibility."

A recent Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU uncovered a number of such reports from the Pentagon's Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database, which is supposed to be used to monitor attack threats near military installations.

As an explanation, the chief of the counterintelligence field unit told The New York Times that "those operating the database had misinterpreted their mandate."

Democrats Plan Series of Votes on Ethics Reform "Despite divisions among Democrats over how far to go in revising ethics rules, House leaders plan a major rollout of an ethics reform bill early next year to demonstrate concern about an issue that helped defeat the Republicans in the midterm elections.

"But they will do it with a twist: Instead of forwarding one big bill, Democrats will put together an ethics package on the House floor piece by piece, allowing incoming freshmen to take charge of high-profile issues and lengthening the time spent on the debate. The approach will ensure that each proposal -- including banning gifts, meals and travel from lobbyists as well as imposing new controls on the budget deficit -- is debated on its own and receives its own vote. That should garner far more media attention for the bill's components before a final vote on the entire package." (WaPo)

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Remember Larry Hanauer, the Democratic aide on the House Intelligence Committee whose clearance was yanked because he was suspected of leaking the Iraq NIE?

House Intel Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) probably hopes you don't, because, as Roll Call reports (sub. req.), Hanauer's access to classified info has been quietly reinstated, "essentially clearing the aide of accusations that he leaked a sensitive report on the Iraq War to The New York Times."

Hoekstra had stripped Hanauer of his access based on remarkably thin evidence -- that Hanauer requested a copy of the Iraq National Intelligence Estimate shortly before the Times reported on the NIE's findings. Nevermind that the Times piece clearly stated that details of the report came from a number of intelligence professionals, with whom the reporters had been speaking for weeks. In fact, as Rep. Ray Lahood (R-IL) admitted, Hanauer was demoted as payback for the Democrats having released, over Hoekstra's objections, a report on Duke Cunningham's dirty doings.

Now Hanauer's been officially (and suddenly) cleared, it seems. Yet another sign that we're in a new era.

Update: A statement from Jonathan Turley, Hanauer's lawyer:

We are grateful that this long nightmare for Larry and his family is now over. It is regrettable that it took this long given the total absence of any evidence linking Larry to the New York Times articles. As we stated at the outset of this controversy, Larry was not and could not have been the source for the New York Times story.

As a result of his name and private telephone number being leaked to the media, Larry has now been the subject of horrible and reprehensible threats.

I hope that the total vindication of Larry will now restore his good name and standing as a professional staff member.

Now the fight really gets started. Democrat Christine Jennings has filed an official contest of the election results.

As we've noted many times here before, the central dispute concerns the "undervote" in one county, where about 13% of voters didn't select a candidate in the congressional race -- a rate far above those in the other counties. The Jennings campaign faults the electronic voting machines for the problem. Republican Vern Buchanan won the race by fewer than 400 votes, according to the official tally.

The complaint, filed today, notes that "The failure to include these votes constitutes a rejection of a number of legal votes sufficient to place in doubt, and likely change, the outcome of the election."

More soon.

Update: Press release from Jennings campaign follows.

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