La. elections chief hopes to restart voting machine search later this year

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Louisiana’s chief elections officer plans to revamp his quest to swap aging voting machines this summer.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin intends to welcome offers from voting equipment vendors before fall. The winning bidder’s merchandise will replace roughly 10,000 machines purchased in 2005.

“We have to update our technology,” Ardoin told BRProud.com in an interview Wednesday. “It’s just wearing out, and they don’t reproduce these machines anymore, so we’re running out of spare parts.”

Ardoin is eyeing smaller machines, so polling places can hold more voters at once with fewer long lines. He also wants any new devices to be able to fit more races onto a single ballot, so the state need not host as many elections year-round.

“I feel like our voters are fatigued with elections at this point,” he said. “I think they would like fewer elections with more on the ballot in the fall, when most people turn out to vote.”

Ardoin also wants the state’s new equipment to provide paper trails, which his office could audit in the event of a recount. But at a state House panel hearing Tuesday, the secretary stopped short of supporting paper ballots.

“Over my dead body,” he said, recalling the confusion caused by Florida’s poorly punched ballots during the 2000 presidential election. “We don’t have that issue in Louisiana because we limit the amount of paper ballots.”

This marks Ardoin’s second try for new voting machines. State procurement officials scrapped his agency’s previous deal last October with Dominion Voting Systems, amid claims that former Secretary of State Tom Schedler manipulated the bid process. (Schedler resigned last May following sexual harassment allegations.)

Ardoin has met with the Office of State Procurement to discuss what it wants from bidders, in order to avoid a similar roadblock this time around. He also plans to seek feedback from clerks of court and registrars before accepting any vendor’s bids.

The secretary said the new machines could cost between $60 and $80 million dollars. Dominion had hinted a $95 million pricetag.

Ardoin’s office has some funds already lined up, including almost $6 million in federal money and $2 million in a voting technology fund. He is asking lawmakers to send part of the state’s $300 million surplus his way.

“They’re one-time dollars for one-time expenses,” he said. “I would hope they would hear me loud and clear and put some money aside for that.”

Because the new equipment will not be ready for the fall elections, the secretary of state’s office will spend $2 million from its current-year budget to rent voting machines.

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