When Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin replaces the roughly 10,000 aging voting machines the state uses every election, he will have plenty of flexibility.
The state’s Voting Systems Commission, which was supposed to be sorting through the alternatives and recommending the kind of system it wanted for Louisiana, essentially passed on nearly everything on the table Wednesday: ballots that can be marked by hand ; ballots marked in a machine; pre-printed ballots; and the ballots that are printed for voters in the precinct.
The only thing the commissioners chose was how the votes would be counted: Paper ballots will be scanned, counted and boxed. They will not be counted by hand.
The 13-member commission was born at the height of false claims that Donald Trump lost his presidential re-election due to widespread fraud. The panel held lengthy hearings over several months to reach Wednesday’s denouement where the commissioners would tell Ardoin how they would like to see Louisiana vote in the future.
Ardoin will now translate these thoughts into regulations which, once the public has had a chance to comment, will be the basis that election hardware and software companies will use to describe what equipment and services they might provide and at what cost. . The state would then select a bidder and negotiate a contract.
Ardoin said the commission’s vagueness gives it more flexibility to tinker with regulations and ensures more companies can participate in the bidding process.
Louisiana is one of the last states to still rely on direct-record electronic voting machines, which are not equipped with devices to create a paper record that Ardoin says could be used to verify results and reassure voters that their votes are being counted accurately. Moreover, the machines are so old that finding spare parts is becoming more and more difficult.
The meeting came after nine vendors gave state and local election officials, as well as the public, a hands-on opportunity to use the systems they sell.
One of the 13 commissioners, Lillian DeJean, appointed by the Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs, abstained from voting on the recommendations, saying none of the vendors had enough equipment or training to ensure that the disability community can vote easily and safely. Indeed, two vendors’ disability voting aid attachments broke down during presentations.
Like previous hearings, Wednesday’s nearly eight-hour meeting was split between comments from the public and those from election officials.
Officials tasked with organizing elections have raised practical concerns, such as how constituency workers would track thousands of pre-printed ballots to ensure that a few hundred don’t go off and end up being stuffed into a ballot box with the same verified candidate name.
Amanda Gross of the West Baton Rouge Parish Clerk’s Office did an experiment using two accountants to tabulate votes on 50 ballots in a single precinct. It turned out that counting just 50 ballots took 45 minutes and that particular polling station registered 750 votes.
Brandon Abadie, chief electoral officer for East Baton Rouge Parish, feared the humidity. Some of Baton Rouge’s polling places are in fire stations and garages with no air conditioning. The paper could stick or warp and cause printer jams, he said.
Public testimony focused on the manual counting of ballots.
Mike Lindell, founder and CEO of My Pillow Inc., which pushed Trump’s false election claims, said “all machines” are open to cyberattacks and election-undermining manipulation.
He advocated for counting handwritten ballots by hand. “We lose everything when we use the machines,” Lindell said.
Many speakers calling for hand-marked and counted paper ballots also testified during the recent legislative session against vaccinations. Christy Haik opposed the addition of a second minority congressional district earlier this year.
On Wednesday, Haik chastised parish clerks for saying they could not hire enough commissioners to count ballots by hand. She said a return to paper ballots and manual tabulation would entice “patriots” to come count.
Lafayette Parish Clerk Louis Perret said he would use the opportunity to advertise for more election workers because the hearing was being broadcast live.