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Florida candidate disputes election results

Story Highlights

• NEW: Florida candidate takes challenge of midterm election loss to the House
• Democrat Christine Jennings blames malfunctioning voting machines
• She lost to Republican Vern Buchanan by 369 votes
• Jennings has also sued in state court
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SARASOTA, Florida (CNN) -- A Democratic House candidate in Florida who alleges that malfunctioning electronic voting equipment played a role in her narrow defeat in November formally contested the results Wednesday.

Christine Jennings is asking for a congressional investigation and a new election in the state's 13th District.

Jennings filed her contest with the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington and has sued in state court to try to overturn her 369-vote loss to Republican Vern Buchanan.

"The voting system in place in Sarasota clearly failed the voters of that district and has triggered a national crisis in voter confidence," Jennings' attorney, Kendall Coffey, said in a statement.

"Ultimately, the U.S. House is responsible for the type of legislative investigations and safeguards that will ensure a situation like we saw in Sarasota never happens again."

But Buchanan spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts accused Jennings of "ignoring the will of the people" by continuing to challenge the election results.

"In Florida, we have a process through which close elections are decided. The state has certified Vern Buchanan as the winner of a lawful and accurate election," Tibbetts said in a statement.

"Congressman-elect Buchanan looks forward to being seated on January 4."

After two recounts, state election officials certified Buchanan as the winner in the 13th District, which includes Sarasota, Hardee and DeSoto counties and parts of Manatee and Charlotte counties.

His margin over Jennings was 369 votes out of nearly 240,000 cast.

However, the Jennings campaign challenged the results in Sarasota County, where more than 18,000 voters -- nearly 15 percent -- did not cast a vote in the congressional race.

The rate of so-called "under votes" was nearly six times higher than in the other four counties in the district and among Sarasota voters who cast paper ballots.

Jennings carried 53 percent of the vote in Sarasota County.

While experts hired by the Jennings campaign blamed machine malfunctions, the Florida Secretary of State's office conducted two post-election tests of the equipment and concluded that the electronic equipment was working correctly.

"These tests did not identify any latent problems with respect to vote selection or the accuracy of the touch screens' tabulation of the votes as cast," the report from the secretary's office said.

"The claims made that votes were lost due to touch screen malfunction are not supported by the results of this test," the report stated.

Under the Constitution, both houses of Congress have the power to be "the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications" of their members. That would allow the House -- controlled by Democrats come January -- to reject Buchanan's election and refuse to seat him, even though he has been certified as the winner by the state of Florida.

According to Jennings' campaign, the House has voided elections and ordered new votes 66 times in its history and awarded seats to candidates who contested the results on 128 occasions.

Coffey said Jennings would prefer "for Florida courts to address the situation and ensure a thorough, independent investigation."

"But by filing today with the U.S. House, we ensure that the House retains its right and responsibility to address the situation in Sarasota and provide assurance to all U.S. voters that their intended votes will be counted fairly and accurately," Coffey said.

The battle in Florida's 13th District is the last House race still up in the air.

Out of the 434 seats decided, Democrats won 233, and Republicans took 201.

The seat over which Buchanan and Jennings are battling is currently held by Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, who was Florida's secretary of state during the disputed 2000 presidential race.

Harris gave up the seat to to run for the Senate; she lost.

The 2000 election imbroglio led to an overhaul of Florida's election laws and a nationwide push to replace antiquated punch-card voting systems with electronic machines.

Critics have complained that the electronic systems should also provide a paper trail so that votes can be tracked in the event the machines malfunction.


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Democrat Christine Jennings is disputing Republican Vern Buchanan's Florida House of Representatives victory in November.

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