Louisiana needs new election machines. That’s a real thing. The state has machines which are old and creaking, and replacing them with newer models is something a prudent Secretary of State should and must do. But as it turns out, that’s less of a problem for Kyle Ardoin than political reality in Louisiana right now.
Ardoin is trying to put a contract out for bid to procure the new election machines. In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, with accusations of irregularities and corruption touching every aspect of that election to include election machines and vote-counting software, doing business with some of the companies, if not all, in the election machine industry is like walking through a mine field. And at the end of the day Ardoin decided it was better not to get blown up.
Louisiana’s secretary of state decided Wednesday to shelve his search for new voting machines after a barrage of complaints about the bid process from election technology companies, the head of a state Senate oversight committee and his fellow Republicans.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin sent a letter to Paula Tregre, Louisiana’s chief procurement officer, announcing his decision, asking her to remove the bid solicitation from a state website and requesting that she dismiss protests filed by two companies that wanted to seek the work.
“I am withdrawing the (request for proposals) to spend the next few months seeking to undo the damage to voter confidence done by those who willfully spread misinformation and disinformation,” Ardoin said in a statement.
In his pointed letter to Tregre and a follow-up statement, the Republican secretary of state accused Tregre of mishandling complaints from the vendors about the bid process, defended his search effort and suggested critics were using national concerns about election integrity to derail needed replacement voting machines.
“We cannot let election administration become just another political football for politicians or voting machine vendors to kick around, without any understanding or concern for the consequences,” he said.
Ardoin said he’ll redo the search in the future, though he gave no date for that plan.
It’s the second time the secretary of state has jettisoned his effort to replace 10,000 Election Day and early voting machines, many of which are decades old. Ardoin also ran into problems with a previous effort in 2018.
He said his decision to scrap the search for contractors that he began in January came after talks with Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, Republicans who backed Ardoin’s decision to end the bid solicitation.
“Louisiana elections are some of the most safe and secure elections in the United States and giving more oversight to the process will only strengthen that,” Schexnayder said in a statement released by Ardoin’s office.
The catalyst for Ardoin’s decision, or perhaps better put the straw that broke the camel’s back, was a letter that Sen. Sharon Hewitt, who chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee which would oversee the bid process, sent to him suggesting rather vociferously that he take a step back. That letter read as follows…
SUBECT: REQUEST TO CANCEL THE REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL (RFP) FOR NEW LOUISIANA VOTING SYSTEM
As Chairwoman of the Senate and Governmental Affairs committee, with responsibility for oversight of elections, I am requesting that you cancel the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the acquisition of a new voting system in Louisiana that was initiated on January 27, 2021.
Never in our nation’s history has there been so much attention focused on ballot security and what constitutes a fair election process. Essential to our democracy is that voters have trust in the election and ballot-counting processes.
As THE Statewide elected official charged with protecting our election procedures, the actions of your office are paramount to building trust and instilling confidence that our elections are fair and run according to Louisiana laws enacted by the Legislature.
Furthermore, the you solely determined Louisiana’s standards for election machines, sidestepping input from the public, election experts, the vendors, and the legislature, prior to the issuance of the RFP.
By rushing this RFP prior to any legislative oversight hearings, which I scheduled and then canceled at your request, you have undermined the public’s ability to provide input and to ask questions.
Now you are attempting to further avoid public scrutiny by hiding behind a blackout period from the initiation of the RFP until the contract is awarded.
Over the past several months, many reports have received national attention and questioned not just the fairness of our processes around the country, but just as importantly, the vendors, machines, and technology used to count votes and protect the integrity of our elections.
It is essential we take additional time to thoroughly examine all the facts and use this as an opportunity to reinforce public trust in our election processes with a focus on unprecedented transparency.
I believe the RFP process could be greatly improved with the use of outside experts to certify that all of the proposed election systems meet the Louisiana standards and provide secure elections. Even though the use of outside experts is clearly allowed in state law per R.S. 18:1361(B), I’m frustrated and disappointed that a less transparent process of in-house certifications has been chosen.
I am also deeply concerned that history is repeating itself. As you know, several years ago, your office awarded a new state contract worth nearly $100 million for new election machines. The state’s Chief Procurement Officer ultimately overturned that award for irregularities in the bidding process.
This year a vendor has already filed a protest, only weeks after the initiation of the current RFP, with accusations that the state standards written by your office advantage certain vendors and eliminate reasonable options that would provide for more competition.
How can this be in the best interest of the taxpayers?
I am also concerned about spending $100 million in taxpayer money on new voting machines at a time when voting procedures and systems are in the midst of a nationwide debate.
It’s clear that a “super-cycle” of new procedures, elections laws and advancement of voting machine technology is just around the corner. Rushing to commit ourselves now to what will very likely be outdated technology would risk taxpayer money and could jeopardize our state election processes in the future.
In fact, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) recognized the need to update their 2005 standards and adopted new federal standards just two weeks after you released this RFP. Rushing into this RFP does not provide time for the vendors to re-certify their equipment for the new Federal standards that were just adopted by the EAC on February 10, 2021.
Additionally, these nationwide discussions will likely result in legislative changes that enact greater security, tracking, and transparency in voting procedures. I fear and predict that issuing a contract of this size, scope and permanence during such a tumultuous time will prove to be irresponsible and ill-timed.
I believe the 2020 election cycle will prove to be an excellent opportunity for chief election officials and legislators across the country to examine the best election practices in both red and blue states. National groups such as the RSLC Commission on Election Integrity, which I serve on, are currently developing best practices to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
I encourage you to slow this process down, learn from other states’ experiences, and put together a revised plan to make Louisiana the nation’s preeminent leader in election integrity. Allowing time for increased public transparency around this bidding process will be a considerable first step towards rebuilding trust and confidence in our election systems.
In summary, I respectfully ask that you cancel this RFP and restart the process on a more transparent path.
Please know that our legislative committee takes our oversight responsibilities very seriously.
Should you choose to proceed with this flawed process please know we will fulfill our responsibilities and immediately schedule a Joint Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to allow the public, legislative members, election experts, and the vendors an opportunity to offer the input that has been so tragically missing in your process thus far.
I look forward to partnering with you to rebuild public confidence in the election process in the state of Louisiana.
Sharon W. Hewitt, Chairwoman
Senate and Governmental Affairs
Ms. Paula Tregre
Chief Procurement Officer
Mr. Jay Dardenne
Commissioner of Administration
The Honorable Page Cortez
The Honorable Clay Schexnayder
Speaker of the House
The Honorable John Stefanski
Chairman, House and Governmental Affairs
Once Hewitt dropped that bomb on Ardoin, politically it became impossible to run the RFP, really at all. Any way it went, somebody would be screaming. That there were accusations Ardoin was rigging the bid in favor of Dominion Voting Systems, whose brand is in terrible odor in Louisiana so much so that there are people suggesting Dominion machines were responsible for Eddie Rispone losing the 2019 gubernatorial election to John Bel Edwards (note: we’ve seen zero evidence to indicate that is true, and Rispone’s campaign didn’t need a whole lot of help to lose that race), there was a real threat from Ardoin’s perspective that he was going to make his re-election impossible if he went through with this RFP.
And as stern as Hewitt’s letter was, it gave him an out. He could wash his hands of this RFP and then go to a more “transparent” process, meaning he could bring the legislators in and hang the RFP around their necks just like it’s around his.
So if Dominion ends up winning the bid and selling the state some $100 million worth of voting machines and the public starts rummaging in storage sheds for pitchforks and torches, it won’t just be Kyle Ardoin they go after.
We don’t really have a take on this question, so our readers know. Three months ago we might well have bought into the whole narrative of Dominion’s corruption. At the time Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, the two lawyers pushing claims about Dominion’s machines rigging the election against President Trump, were making some very bold accusations about vote-switching and statistical impossibilities, and those accusations were backed by what seemed to be quite credible witnesses in former generals Tom McInerney and Mike Flynn.
But the next thing we knew we were hearing about gunfights at German server farms and all kinds of other things straight out of a Tom Clancy novel, and none of it was ever really corroborated like you’d expect it to be. And when Powell and Wood started telling people in Georgia not to vote in the senate runoffs there, the whole Dominion thing started to look like a snipe hunt. Then came Dominion’s lawsuits against everybody who’d weighed in on Powell and Wood’s behalf, something one wouldn’t expect if Dominion really thought they’d suffer from what dirt would surface in the discovery process, and even if you think the election was stolen from Trump (we still think that), the prime culprit would seem to be mail-in ballots more than switching votes cast through election machines.
Nobody thinks the Dominion machines turned out inaccurate results in Louisiana, by the way. Trump getting 58 percent of the vote in November was almost exactly what was expected. Ardoin’s camp has been yelling that from the rooftops for months. From a statement the Secretary of State gave us a few days ago…
Our state is different from many states in that we are a top-down state; the Secretary of State’s office owns, programs, handles, stores, and maintains every voting machine, whether for early voting or Election Day.
Every part of the process regarding voting machines is done by trained staff and not by outside vendors or third-party technicians.
Before each election, every machine undergoes a test and seal process in an open and transparent public meeting, conducted by each parish board of election supervisors, made up of the Parish Clerk of Court (or designee), parish Registrar of Voters (or designee), a member of the Republican Party Parish Executive Committee, a member of the Democratic Party Parish Executive Committee and a gubernatorial appointee. This bipartisan board oversees that every machine is operating properly and counting votes without error or issue.
Absentee ballots must still be requested, and the voter requesting an absentee ballot must still provide personal identifying information that matches what is on file with the parish Registrar of Voters Office. E
After the voter’s identity is verified, the Registrar sends the voter his or her ballot.
Properly filled-out ballots, returned by the deadline, are counted on Election Day by the bipartisan parish board of election supervisors.
Louisiana has time-tested security protocols and procedures that put the state in a positive posture.
The multi-level, bipartisan checks and balances we have in place have consistently delivered the accurate, safe, and timely results Louisiana voters expect.
And here’s what they had to say about the RFP…
Here are a few of the election integrity measures we have included in this RFP:
ONE: A VVPAT system provides voters with the peace of mind that their vote is recorded accurately by allowing them to verify their vote on paper before casting their vote electronically on a voting machine.
This feature will also enhance the audits of the state election system thereby maintaining the accuracy of Louisiana elections.
TWO: An important security measure requires proposers to disclose background checks and security training protocols for all employees who would be working on this project.
This requirement is a security measure to prevent nefarious individuals from coming into contact with Louisiana’s election system.
THREE: All bidders will be required to disclose any foreign ownership so that we know with whom we may be doing business.
FOUR: The proposer must disclose all countries in which their election system and equipment are used.
Any proposer will be required to disclose their corporate structure and ownership including all board members, any entity with more than 10% ownership in the organization, any ownership in the company by foreign persons or entities.
FIVE: The contractor agrees not to use any monies from this contract for political purposes.
The proposed contractors for a voting system shall meet all relevant requirements the Louisiana Election Code, Help America Vote Act, Louisiana Procurement Code, and Information Technology Procurement Code, and any other relevant laws.
All of which sounds like what Louisiana voters would want to see out of an RFP such as this. But the devil is in the details, as always, and these RFP’s very often get written so that one bidder in particular stands out. The rumor has been, though we haven’t seen anything to corroborate this, that Dominion was the only company who could satisfy the terms of the RFP.
All of which meant going forward with this RFP, particularly with the entire thing on his head and his head alone, was a political impossibility. Ardoin did the only thing he could do by pulling back. If that RFP isn’t passed through a large committee with a ton of shared responsibility when it returns, we’ll be surprised.