Louisiana senators back bill to modify voting machine search

Politics

Louisiana State Sens Bret Allain, R-Franklin, chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, talks with Sen. Sharon Hewett, R-Slidell, and Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington (AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana would rework the way it shops for voting machines, under legislation that started moving forward Tuesday in the state Senate after two failed efforts to replace the state’s voting system ended in controversy.

The proposal by Senate Republican leader Sharon Hewitt would add new layers of legislative oversight, broaden the types of voting systems allowed and remove some decision-making from Louisiana’s secretary of state. The measure would create a commission to analyze and select the type of voting system that could be bought or leased, rather than the secretary of state.

Hewitt has long been a critic of the process, and in March, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin called her out, accusing her of irresponsibly disparaging his voting machine search efforts and damaging his agency’s reputation for running elections.

The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which Hewitt chairs, sent the bill to the full Senate for debate without objection.

Hewitt, of Slidell, said her proposal would offer “a much more open, fair, transparent and accountable process for securing voting systems.” She said it would give the general public more points in the process to offer thoughts before the bid solicitation begins.

Still, several people who repeated baseless allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election said Hewitt’s legislation, while well-intentioned, did not do enough to address their concerns. They said they wanted the bill to require paper ballots and more clear public input on the voting system selection.

“We’re losing our country, and I just don’t see where there’s concern,” said Lenar Whitney, a leader in the Republican Party of Louisiana and a former lawmaker, who got choked up during her testimony.

Craig Schiro, a retired engineer in the oil and gas industry from Folsom, said the state needs a “secure piece of paper that cannot be teleported to China.”

Hewitt said while she supports the idea of having a paper trail for voters, she does not want to lock the state into a specific voting system for years that could later become obsolete.

Ardoin, the Republican elections chief who scrapped the two prior bid solicitations for voting machines, raised concerns about details of Hewitt’s proposal, but said he supports the concept and will continue to work with the senator on revisions.

He also pledged to work with lawmakers before again trying to replace the machines and to hold public hearings about the effort — trying to address criticism he received for the latest shelved attempt to get new machines.

“I heard the voices of you all and the public loud and clear. I halted the process so I could work with you all,” he told the committee.

Ardoin ended the latest voting machine replacement attempt in March after facing widespread complaints from election technology firms, Hewitt and other Republicans. He told lawmakers recently that he won’t soon restart the effort to replace the state’s 10,000 machines, many of which are decades old.

The contract for new voting machines is estimated to be worth up to $100 million.

The voting machine replacement effort faced intense scrutiny, coming after a previous 2018 search for a new voting system fell apart amid allegations of improper bid handling and amid a national spotlight on the handling of elections after the 2020 presidential competition.

Prior to scrapping the entire program, the process was temporarily suspended in February, after one of the vendors cried foul over the process.

In the meantime, the secretary of state’s office continues to pay its current voting machine vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, to provide election technology. In the current budget year, Louisiana paid Dominion $1.2 million from July through March, according to Ardoin’s office.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump who repeat unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud suggest that Dominion is to blame for Trump’s loss in key swing states, though not his victory in Louisiana. Whitney and others who criticized Hewitt’s bill repeated similar claims about Dominion at Tuesday’s hearing.

Dominion has sued several high-profile figures for spreading the allegations…By Melinda Deslatte

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