BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana has resumed efforts to replace thousands of decades-old voting machines, with the state’s elections chief issuing a new solicitation for bidders Wednesday amid a political climate where such contracts are getting intensified scrutiny.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin already was going to face strong interest in his search for a contractor to update Louisiana’s voting system because allegations of improper bid handling derailed a previous effort to replace the machines in 2018.
But the Republican elected official’s vendor search is expected to draw heightened monitoring because of the national debate over the presidential election and baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
Ardoin understands the timing isn’t optimal, but he said the bid solicitation has safeguards he hopes will reassure people.
Louisiana’s “voting equipment has been around for almost 30 years now, and I just don’t know how much longer they can last without us having major issues. It’s time to do this,” Ardoin said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The timing may not be perfect, but it certainly gives the Louisiana people the assurance that I’m looking at it from the perspective of a secure, safe and transparent process and election system.”
Louisiana’s current voting machine contractor, Dominion Voting Systems, has specifically been targeted by conservatives who claimed without evidence that its machines were easily manipulated and somehow to blame for Trump’s loss in other states. Trump won Louisiana’s electoral votes. Dominion has sued Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for spreading the unsubstantiated claims.
Ardoin said vendors who bid for Louisiana’s contract will have to disclose any foreign ownership, countries in which they operate and names of board members, in what appears to be a strike at some of the misinformation spread about Dominion.
Bids for the work are due by March 24. The state could either buy or lease new Election Day and early voting machines, but Ardoin said any lease would require Louisiana to have sole control of the machines.
Louisiana’s current voting system has drawn the ire of national experts because the electronic machines do not produce a paper record. They say these machines, used in only a few states, are vulnerable and hackers could manipulate outcomes without detection.
The secretary of state’s office intends to add a paper trail for the new voting machines Louisiana will buy or lease, with voters able to see their choices on paper before casting their ballots and with the paper trail retained for audits and possible recounts.
The machine replacement will be phased in over three years, and lawmakers haven’t set aside all the money needed to pay for it. The secretary of state’s office has $14 million in largely federal dollars for a lucrative contract expected to cost much more than that.
Ardoin hopes to have the first new early voting machines in some parishes by the spring 2022 elections.
Louisiana’s request for proposals from voting system contractors is the second effort to replace the machines. The secretary of state’s office started looking for a contractor in March 2018 under Ardoin’s predecessor, Tom Schedler. The agency solicited bids. Dominion was chosen to provide the new machines out of three companies that bid for the work, estimating the replacement could cost up to $95 million.
But Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration voided the contract award to the Colorado-based company months later amid accusations from a competing bidder that the secretary of state’s office attempted to manipulate the outcome.
In response to a protest filed by Election Systems and Software, Louisiana’s chief procurement officer said the secretary of state’s office didn’t follow legal requirements in choosing the winning vendor. Ardoin and Dominion disagreed. But the vendor didn’t dispute the matter in court.
Ardoin said he worked closely with the procurement office on the new bid solicitation.
While waiting to replace the state’s existing machines, Louisiana has rented temporary early voting machines for recent elections and used spare parts to repair the old Election Day machines.
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