Democrats Seek Recount in Hill-Sodrel Race

Posted November 12, 2004 at 6:35pm

The Indiana Democratic Party on Friday requested a recount of votes cast in the 9th district, where Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) was narrowly defeated by Republican Mike Sodrel on Nov. 2.

The recount request was made after an election-equipment malfunction was discovered in Franklin County, which is not in the 9th district.

On Nov. 3, Hill conceded defeat to Sodrel, a trucking company owner, and the most recent vote tally available from the Indiana secretary of state’s office showed Hill trailing by 1,485 votes. As of midday Friday, Sodrel had 142,257 votes to Hill’s 140,772.

An emergency meeting of the state’s recount commission was held Friday afternoon and the machines, ballots and all other material relating to the election were ordered impounded. The commission will meet again on Tuesday to decide the next course of action and to hear cross petitions from Republicans.

“They want to hear from the other side as well,” Kate Shepherd, a spokeswoman for the Indiana secretary of state’s office, said Friday.

Last week, Rock Island, Ill.-based election equipment vendor Fidlar Election Co. acknowledged that some of its vote-scanning machines counted straight Democratic ticket votes as Libertarian votes.

Fidlar provided the optical-scan Accuvote 2000 ES system to 10 Indiana counties, including Ripley, Scott and Switzerland counties in the 9th district. But company officials have said Franklin is the only county where that error occurred.

“At this point the Indiana elections division does not know of any other counties besides Franklin that have had these difficulties,” Shephard said.

But a hand recount in Franklin late last week had already changed the outcome of at least one local commission race, and Democrats say the 20-county recount effort is justified.

“Obviously Mike Sodrel won by only a very small margin,” said Terry Burns, spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party. “To protect the integrity of this election, we think it’s just common sense to seek a recount and make sure that everyone did have their votes counted correctly.”

Sodrel, who will be on Capitol Hill this week for freshman Member orientation, released a statement Friday expressing confidence that his victory could withstand a recount.

“I am confident in the results,” Sodrel said. “The people of the Ninth District have spoken and County Clerks of both political parties across Southeastern Indiana have confirmed the results.”

Hill defeated Sodrel in 2002 by a 9,485-vote margin, winning with just 51 percent of the vote.

It is unclear when a recount, if ordered, would be complete, but a Hill spokesman reiterated the desire to have it done sooner rather than later.

“It is in everyone’s best interest, including Congressman Hill, to get this done as quickly as possible,” said Hill spokesman Stefan Bailey.

Hill, the only Democratic incumbent outside of Texas to be defeated this year, has held the southwestern 9th district seat since 1998. He has already sent signals that he may seek a rematch with Sodrel in 2006.

As of Friday, there were no House or Senate recounts under way as a result of the Nov. 2 elections.