Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Analysis points to bad ballot design

Sarasota County’s party faithful were the most reliable voters on election day, rarely skipping any of the high-profile races.

But something odd happened when they were supposed to choose their U.S. congressional representative.

A Herald-Tribune analysis of every ballot cast shows these loyal party voters — on both sides of the aisle — were largely responsible for the massive undervote in Sarasota’s House District 13 race. Nearly 60 percent of the 18,000 undervotes in that race came from people who otherwise did their best to ensure their party’s candidate won.

The bizarre trend has convinced a growing number of election experts that the most important factor in the undervote was bad ballot design — something state auditors aren’t considering as they continue this week to examine voter machines for malfunctions.

The experts theorized that straight ticket voters would be more vulnerable to a ballot design flaw because they are looking for three letters — ‘DEM’ or ‘REP’ — instead of carefully scanning the ballot for a particular candidate.

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent paired the two-candidate District 13 race on a screen with the larger and more prominent governor’s race, potentially causing voters to miss the House race.

The scope of the undervote can’t be dismissed. The 13 percent undervote rate is nearly twice as high as any competitive congressional race in Florida in at least a decade. It also skewed Democratic, meaning Jennings may well have won the contest if the undervote had been as small as in other races.

And the fact that it was loyal party voters who made up the bulk of this aberration runs counter to what election experts expect. Typically, most undervotes come from people who are least loyal to one party.

That’s exactly how the undervote breaks down in every other Sarasota County contest at the top of the ballot.

The same phenomenon occurred in at least two other counties with a similar ballot style.

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