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Louisiana voting machine work stalls, with no date to resume

Posted at 2:52 PM, Nov 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-30 15:52:13-05

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – With a major election year approaching, Louisiana’s work to replace voting machines it bought 13 years ago has remained stalled for months, amid bid-rigging allegations, a voided contract award, and claims of political meddling.

Interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, whose office oversees state elections, has no immediate timeline for restarting the replacement effort as he waits to see if the cancelled contract award will prompt litigation.

That means there’s no schedule for when Louisiana will buy or lease new voting machines, as the state enters a big election cycle, with the governorship, six other statewide elected positions and all 144 state legislative seats on the ballot in October 2019.

Louisiana’s chief procurement officer found flaws with the bid process and scrapped the selection of Dominion Voting Systems to replace the voting machines, saying the secretary of state’s office didn’t follow legal requirements. A Dominion appeal was denied Wednesday.

Ardoin said in a statement he wants to get new voting machines “as soon as possible to continue to keep Louisiana at the forefront of election integrity and security.”

But Ardoin spokesman Tyler Brey said the office won’t determine how to move forward until it learns if Dominion will sue. Under state law, Dominion has two weeks from its appeal rejection to decide if it will file a lawsuit seeking to hold onto the lucrative contract award.

“Until they decide to do that or not do that, the process is not officially done,” Brey said Thursday. “The office is not going to put forward the plans for next steps until this system has run its course.”

Dominion hasn’t said if it will go to court, saying the company was “considering all available options.”

Ardoin, a Republican, has criticized the contract award cancellation decision from Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration as a political one aimed at helping an Edwards supporter who represents a losing bidder. The administration called that claim absurd and suggested Ardoin was trying to deflect attention on the issue.

The secretary of state’s office started its search for a voting machine vendor in March, soliciting bids to replace its current 10,000 Election Day and early voting machines with smaller devices, improved technology and a paper record of votes. Three companies bid for the contract.

Colorado-based Dominion was chosen as the winning bidder in August, estimating its work would cost up to $95 million. But the decision was embroiled in allegations from a losing bidder that the secretary of state’s office mishandled parts of the bid process and attempted to manipulate the outcome for Dominion.

The voting machine replacement work began under Ardoin’s former boss, Republican Tom Schedler, who resigned in May amid sexual harassment allegations. Ardoin took over after Schedler’s exit and is running in a December special election to keep the job.

Election Systems and Software, known as ES&S, raised allegations of impropriety in June, during the bid process. The company said the secretary of state’s office issued voting machine standards only Dominion could meet.

Ardoin said release of those standards was a mistake, and he withdrew them. The Office of State Procurement, which oversaw the bid review, scrapped the original evaluation committee and removed Ardoin from the new review team in response.

The contested standards weren’t used to evaluate bidders, Ardoin said, describing the bid process as fair and equitable for all three vendors.

Still, in October, Louisiana’s chief procurement officer Paula Tregre voided the voting machine contract award in response to an ES&S protest. She said the secretary of state’s office did not properly post voting system standards expected of a contractor, as required. She also determined Dominion’s proposal involved equipment not properly certified.

That decision was upheld by Tregre’s boss, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.