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Pelosi May Refuse Certified GOP Winner

From Florida’s Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

Pelosi is not ruling out a win by Democrat in disputed race

By Paul Quinlan

December 23. 2006 6:01AM

Despite warnings that it could turn the new Congress into a partisan battleground, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refuses to rule out the possibility that Democrat Christine Jennings could be seated to represent the 13th District when the 110th Congress convenes in 12 days.

Republicans and even some Democrats said they expect the seat to go to Republican Vern Buchanan, the certified winner by 369 votes.

But Pelosi, who will head a 31-seat Democrat majority in the House, has refused to shut the door on Jennings, until audits, lawsuits and a House investigation are completed.

"The bottom line here is that nothing’s off the table," said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

Buchanan, who claims the election was cleanly decided and criticizes Jennings for contesting the result, will be in Washington, D.C., next month, ready to assume the duties, aides say.

"Historical precedent is that when there’s a contested race the certified winner be seated," said Buchanan spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts. "Therefore, we fully expect Vern Buchanan to be seated on Jan. 4."

But Pelosi’s spokesman said calls for seating the certified victor represent a Republican interpretation, not an iron-clad rule.

In 1984, for example, a Democrat-controlled House refused to seat Republican Richard McIntyre, the certified winner by 418 votes after a state-ordered recount.

The statement from Pelosi’s office comes two weeks after national Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said that Buchanan should "absolutely not" be seated on Jan. 4.

It is unclear, however, whether other Democrats — assuming control of the House for the first time in more than a decade — are ready for the battle that would ensue if Buchanan is denied the seat without a court ruling or other legal mandate.

"At most, he should be seated provisionally," said Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Pembroke Pines and one of Jennings’ closest allies. "In my mind, I can’t really justify leaving the constituents of the 13th District without representation during the House Administration and the court’s review."

So far, neither a state audit of the iVotronic touch-screen voting machines nor lawsuits by Jennings and voting groups have produced evidence to suggest Election Day malfunction.

This week, the contested election entered the political realm when Jennings took her challenge to Congress, filing a contest with the House Administration Committee seeking an investigation and, possibly, a new election.

Such challenges can take months or longer to resolve.

If Buchanan takes the seat on Jan. 4, history bodes well for his keeping it. Only two of the 105 contests filed since 1933 have resulted in an unseating, the last time in 1967, according to a committee report.

Unlike the audit and lawsuit, the outcome of Jennings’ U.S. House challenge could hinge on partisan politics.

In a prescient exchange five weeks before the Nov. 7 election, Democratic and Republican House leaders acknowledged gray areas in the law and politics of election challenges, foreshadowing the complicated and bruising path that could await Jennings.

On Sept. 28, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., wrote the Republican chairman of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, noting that he was "deeply concerned" about "ambiguities and deficiencies" of the election contest laws.

Hoyer, the incoming House majority leader, called the law "so ambiguous that it can actually exacerbate an inherently partisan process rather than tame it."

Two weeks after the letter, both sides met to discuss the questions Hoyer raised. Another letter followed from Ehlers on Nov. 3, agreeing that changes ought to be made and outlining a proposal. The exchange died there. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Hoyer called Ehlers’ letter and proposal a "non-response."

"We’re basically left with the law that covers these types of issues," said Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Bernards.

Hoyer’s letter raises specific doubts about the committee’s power to subpoena evidence, which could be tested if Jennings’ attorneys fail to convince a state judge that the voting machine manufacturer should turn over the source code to the machine software.

Election Systems & Software Inc. has refused to do so, calling it a trade secret. Jennings’ experts hope to examine the code for flaws that might have contributed to the nearly 18,000 undervotes in the race.

Before the 1996 election contest, the committee’s subpoena power under the Federal Contested Election Act had gone untested, Hoyer wrote Ehlers. Some subpoenas in that case went unanswered for nearly a year.

"When the process was tested, it was found profoundly wanting," Hoyer wrote. "Neither the courts nor the committee has the power to enforce the subpoenas."

Karl Sandstrom, elections counsel to the committee from 1979 to 1992, described the House elections contest process as one replete with "mythmaking," "partisan power plays" and "dueling press conferences."

"The House’s procedures are not as spelled out as in a judicial contest," he said of contests brought under the Federal Contested Election Act. "People can easily start believing their own political spin, and the facts can easily be spun."

Hoyer’s letter echoes those concerns, ending on a dour note. "With the direction of the House likely to turn on a handful of seats, ensuring that contested elections are adjudicated in a fair, transparent, and swift manner is essential," Hoyer wrote. "If the last contested House election is any guide, FCEA many not be up to the challenge."

Pelosi refuses to rule out the possibility that Democrat Christine Jennings could be seated to represent the 13th District when the 110th Congress convenes in 12 days.

Republicans and even some Democrats said they expect the seat to go to Republican Vern Buchanan, the certified winner by 369 votes.

Once again this is a story that we will only read about in the local papers. Not in our mainstream media. Because it puts the lie to the Democrats’ talk of ending corruption and partisanship.

Of course the Democrats are just doing what they always do. Winning power by any means possible — fair or foul. Even if it means stealing an election outright.

Sadly, the Republicans will probably do what they always do — concede rather than put up a fight.

It’s all in a day’s work for Pelosi’s "most ethical Congress ever."

This article was posted by Steve on Saturday, December 23rd, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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