Louisiana elections chief slams senator over voting machines

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FILE – In this July 20, 2018, file photo, interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, R-Baton Rouge, talks to reporters in Baton Rouge, La. On Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, Ardoin, Louisiana’s elections chief, proposed a scaled-back emergency plan for this fall’s elections that would modestly expand early voting amid the coronavirus outbreak, but still require most people to cast their ballots in person in the pandemic. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin lashed out Friday against the head of the Louisiana Senate’s elections oversight committee after she helped to sink Ardoin’s voting machine replacement work, escalating an intraparty feud that could affect any future search for new voting technology.

Ardoin accused his fellow Republican, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, of irresponsibly disparaging his voting machine search efforts and damaging his agency’s reputation for running elections.

“You participated in a politically motivated ruse and launched an unfounded assault on an agency that has the highest requirements for precision during early and election day voting in the state of Louisiana,” Ardoin wrote in a letter to Hewitt.

The letter comes two days after the secretary of state scrapped his search for a company to replace 10,000 voting machines across Louisiana, under criticism from Hewitt, other Republicans and possible bidders about the bid solicitation process. Hewitt released a letter calling on Ardoin to jettison the search, saying he rushed into the process too quickly and without public input and legislative oversight.

But rather than offering a statement seeking to move past the disagreement, Ardoin appeared to escalate it Friday with his response.

The dispute could have future ripples across the legislative session and Ardoin’s plans to eventually redo the voting machine replacement work, a contract estimated to be worth up to $100 million. Hewitt is leader of the Senate Republicans and chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that oversees legislation affecting elections and Ardoin’s office.

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.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump, including in Louisiana, have continued to repeat baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud. They’ve suggested that Louisiana’s current voting machine vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, was to blame for Trump’s loss in key swing states, though not his victory in Louisiana. Dominion has sued several high-profile figures nationally for spreading the allegations.

Ardoin noted that Louisiana now will continue to use decades-old machines from the contractor that some Republicans have heavily criticized — and he blamed Hewitt.

“Please know that your continued quest to place yourself into this discussion has now resulted in Louisiana’s prolonged use of its current inventory of Dominion voting machines for election day and early voting,” Ardoin wrote.

Hewitt chalked up Ardoin’s letter to embarrassment about having to end a voting system replacement search a second time in three years without new machines.

“I can understand if the Secretary is embarrassed, but I’ve been crystal clear from the beginning. This process must be transparent and thorough. I don’t need an ivy-league study to tell me that the Secretary’s two failed attempts were neither,” Hewitt said in a statement.

She said she “will work with him to improve the process.”

Before Ardoin canceled the bid solicitation, his search for voting machines already had been on hold while Louisiana’s chief procurement officer reviewed complaints from two interested bidders, Hart InterCivic and Election Systems and Software. They accused Ardoin of drawing the search terms too narrowly and trying to manipulate the bid process to benefit Dominion. Ardoin denied the allegations, defending the search as fair.


Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

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