The only Republican incumbent statewide officer driven to a runoff election in 2019, Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin will be hard-pressed to avoid that fate again this year – if he can win reelection at all.
Two GOP challengers recently made formal their entrances into the contest, both echoing similar themes that Ardoin could run elections better. Brandon Trosclair, whose previous electoral experience consists of making the runoff in a 2019 House contest, complains that electoral integrity is left wanting under Ardoin that would be solved largely by reverting to more intensive ballot-counting and less reliance on outside parties for elections administration.
While the conservative Heritage Foundation ranks Louisiana highly in elections administration, sixth among the states, it also faults it mainly in accuracy of voter lists, voter identification loopholes, and the state not having a law explicitly banning private money influencing election administration. However, Ardoin’s office can’t do much about a lot of that, with it subject to state law and the whims of local registrar of voters, although around the margins verification could be improved.
It may be difficult for Trosclair to gain traction, having never run statewide, and while a business owner he doesn’t have a huge amount of his own resources to commit. Gaining oxygen in this contest will be a real problem to him because the other challenger, Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, isn’t lacking in these resources.
Francis doesn’t just represent a district which is the closest thing to a statewide contest without being one, courtesy of the only five members of the PSC, that he has run twice in and won; he just got re-elected only a few months ago. He also has loads of cash to throw at it not just from his own campaign account but in personal funds, Keep in mind that Francis first ran for State in a 2006 special election that saw him finish a close third, where he dropped over a million bucks of his own money and loaned himself hundreds of thousands more. Plus, his incumbency and the fact that he served in the latter 1990s as Republican Party Chairman thereby retaining some connections to activists across the state, also act as arrows in his quiver.
Francis’ beefs with Ardoin also focus on elections administration, maintaining that local officials are frustrated with Ardoin’s dismissal of their ideas to improve elections. Ardoin writes this off as unfounded controversy.
But Ardoin can’t deny he had been at the center of controversy over attempts to bring voting equipment up to date, with repeated attempts to replace these that he has failed to fulfill over five years that also have brought accusations of favoritism. And even as Ardoin has around a quarter-million dollars as of now available for electioneering, with his available resources Francis easily could drown him out.
Worse for him, Ardoin struggled in his initial special election and then reelection attempt. In both, two candidates, one the only Democrat who thereby won many votes by default and another Republican who shares the same last name as Republican Sen. John Kennedy, won significant chunks of the vote with next-to-no-campaigning that put him in runoffs with the Democrat both times. Francis can bring to bear resources the magnitude of which Ardoin never has had to combat.
Still, Ardoin has his incumbency to draw upon and deep connections with the statehouse crowd, plus he can point to actions that ought to please those concerned with election integrity. Over a year ago when he withdrew the state from the Electronic Registration Information Center consortium that trades voter registration data, especially the political left questioned the move as misguided. In retrospect, he proved a trailblazer as several other states have followed, often lodging the same complaint of potential data security problems.
However, let’s assume a Democrat that gives even a minimal effort to campaigning turn up. Ardoin’s opponent in the 2017 and 2019 elections, Gwen Collins-Greenup, hasn’t signaled she’ll run again but who’s to say she won’t again? In such a case, his struggle to consolidate support among Republicans that has produced his strongest GOP opposition yet might just ace him out of what would appear to be an inevitable runoff.