The House Election Task Force held a hearing Friday on the contested Florida District 13 race of 2006. The Government Accountability Office presented the findings of its final report [PDF] into Sarasota County's mysterious 18,000 undervotes in that contest, which Republican Vern Buchanan won by a narrow margin over Democrat Christine Jennings.

After conducting its own tests, the GAO concluded that the technology at issue -- Election Systems & Software's iVotronic equipment, a direct recording electronic system that left no paper trail -- counted the votes accurately. However, the GAO's Dr. Nabajyoti Barkakati told the task force that the results "cannot be used to provide absolute assurance" that the technology was not a factor in the undervote. Nevertheless, the task force members unanimously approved a motion to dismiss Jennings' challenge of the election outcome.

But various voting experts are questioning the GAO's conclusions. Susan Pynchon is the executive director of the Florida Fair Elections Center, which last month released the results of its own year-long investigation into the iVotronics equipment that concluded problems with the technology were responsible for the loss of about 100,000 votes in various races during that state's 2006 election. In a brief phone interview on Friday, she called the GAO's report "terrible," noting that it focused on aspects of the technology that were not under contention and then took a "breathtaking leap" to exonerate the ES&S machines. She said her organization would release a more thorough analysis of the GAO's report soon; we will link to that here.

The Verified Voting Foundation also concluded that the GAO's findings were not sufficient to exonerate the machines from a role in the massive undervote. VVF founder David Dill, a Stanford University computer science professor, said the GAO's report "cannot be interpreted as a clean bill of health for the machines."

Writing on the Freedom to Tinker blog, Dan Wallach -- a Rice University computer science professor who with Dill co-authored a lengthy paper about shortcomings in previous investigations of iVotronics machines -- pointed out that the GAO failed to conduct any controlled human subject tests to cast simulated votes, which would shed light on whether voters are confused by the system's user interface. GAO also failed to examine warehoused machines for evidence of miscalibration, didn't inspect any of ES&S's internal change logs or trouble tickets, and failed to offer enough details about its own tests to allow a critique of whether they were done properly. Noted Wallach:

Meanwhile, you can expect ES&S and others to use the GAO report as some sort of vindication of the iVotronic, in specific, or of paperless DRE voting systems, in general. Don't buy it. Even if Sarasota's extreme undervote rate wasn't itself sufficient to throw out this specific election result, it still represents compelling evidence that the voting system, as a whole, substantially failed to capture the intent of Sarasota's voters.

The task force's motion to dismiss the challenge will now be reviewed by the full Committee on House Administration before going to the House floor for a vote.