Louisiana Republican Party struggles with counting votes in chairman election

There were initially more ballots cast than eligible votes Saturday.

By: - January 30, 2021 8:25 pm
Louisiana Republican Party

Most of the people attending a meeting of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee Saturday (Jan. 30) weren’t wearing masks that might have stopped the spread of COVID-19. The meeting took place in Parkview Baptist Church. (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue.)

The Louisiana Republican State Central Committee upheld an election for state GOP chairman Saturday (Jan. 30), even though there was confusion over whether everyone who cast a ballot was eligible to vote.

Louis Gurvich easily beat state Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, on an 134-61 vote to remain chairman for another term. There were 195 votes cast in the election, though state party officials initially said there were only 190 eligible votes for the contest.

“It didn’t matter to the result of the election, so we just accepted the outcome,” Gurvich said of the vote discrepancy in an interview after the meeting.

In the next contested race, for GOP party secretary, Republican committee members were asked to come up one-by-one to cast their votes in order to avoid having too many ballots again. They also didn’t initially announce the results of the chairman election, only saying that Gurvich won by a “substantial margin.”

Then, GOP officials retroactively changed the number of people who could vote in the chairman’s race — from 190 to 195 — such that it matched the number of ballots tallied. 

The 230 members of the Republican State Central Committee are qualified to cast ballots in the chairman election. The central committee members are elected by registered Republican voters in districts that span the state. If they cannot attend a committee meeting in person, some committee members are eligible to tap others to vote on their behalf. Members said that accounted for the confusion.

“I think there was a problem with the proxies,” who were voting for absent committee members, said state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a committee member, about the ballot discrepancy.

Harris conceded that he had lost the chairman’s race, but he told the committee member the confusion over the ballots was indicative of larger problems with the Republican Party leadership.

Harris and Republican mega-donor Eddie Rispone have been trying to oust Gurvich for weeks. Rispone initially said he would run for party chairman himself, but ended up dropping out of the race to focus on his business. Harris announced he would run against Gurvich just five days ago.

They said the party has challenges raising money and isn’t taken seriously. Harris — in his pitch for being selected chairman Saturday — described the party as getting “no respect” and said it needs to go in a different direction to get a Republican governor elected in 2023.

There was also some tension over whether masks should be required at Saturday’s meeting. GOP officials weren’t going to require committee members to wear masks at the indoor meeting, until Rispone publicly complained that it would make the event difficult for many members to attend safely. Rispone had also wanted to use a larger space, where committee members could sit farther apart. 

After Rispone complained, Gurvich said masks would be required at the meeting, though that rule didn’t end up being enforced. Of the over 200 people in attendance Saturday, only about a quarter of the crowd was wearing masks. The meeting lasted five hours.

“Masks are required,” Gurvich said to a largely maskless crowd at the beginning of the meeting.

The confusion over votes in Saturday’s election also isn’t an isolated incident for the Republican Party. At the GOP’s last meeting in August, one more ballot was cast than there were eligible votes in the race for Louisiana’s Republican National Committeewoman, according to minutes provided from that meeting. The committee ended up having to redo the vote in that election, eventually won by former state Rep. Lenar Whitney, of Houma.

Despite the confusion over intra-party elections, Republican officials didn’t hold back from criticizing the national election that put President Joe Biden in office or raising baseless accusations about voter fraud in other states.

“We’re still questioning even the validity of the election itself which I know, you know, we know, we won that election,” Whitney said to the applause from the Republican crowd, alleging falsely that former President Donald Trump beat Biden in the November election.  Biden won and was sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

At the end of the meeting, the party also tried to pass a resolution expressing “dismay and disgust” at the way the presidential election was handled, primarily by courts. Officials accused judges of “illegally altering” the election process in the resolution and said there was “at least the appearance of voter fraud” in other states. They were particularly critical of the U.S. Supreme Court, which they said behaved in a “cowardly fashion” when the court didn’t take up Trump’s challenges to voting results in states Biden won.

“The American people will never know for sure whether voter fraud occurred,” the resolution stated.

The resolution didn’t end up being adopted because, by the time it came up at the end of the meeting, the state central committee no longer had enough members in attendance to vote on resolutions at all. There were only enough people present for 76 of the 230 potential votes.

But if it had passed, the Republican Party planned to send it to all the members of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

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