Voting machine bill advances after residents pushing conspiracies descend on Senate committee

Bill would strip autonomy from Sec. of State Ardoin

Voting machine bill passes Senate committee
Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin testifies in front of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee regarding his proposed emergency election plan on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. (Photo by Wes Muller/LA Illuminator).

A bill that proposes a new method of procuring Louisiana’s voting machine systems and strips the Louisiana Secretary of State of some autonomy cleared its first major hurdle on Tuesday, advancing out of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee with unanimous approval following hours of conspiracy-riddled testimony from a group of mostly Shreveport residents.

Senate Bill 221, which is sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, and already carries 25 different amendments, would establish the Voting System Technology Commission to analyze any prospective voting systems and direct the secretary of state on which voting machine companies to solicit bids from. It would also create the Voting System Technology Proposal Review Committee to investigate and test the machines to determine which machines the commission should make the secretary of state purchase. 

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin currently has control over the procurement process. 

Hewitt said she wrote the bill in response to many complaints from her constituents about the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden won the presidency, and carried some states — such as Arizona and Georgia that Democratis hadn’t won in decades. Supporters of Donald Trump filed dozens of suits claiming frauds, but multiple courts summarily dismissed them due to a lack of any evidence. Trump, as expected, won Louisiana handily. But even in Louisiana, fraud claims persist. 

Some of those baseless fraud claims implicate Dominion, a voting machine vendor that some Trump partisans have accused of robbing Trump of a second term. Louisiana Republicans forced Ardoin, also a Republican, to cancel open bidding for new voting machines because they said the bid language was too favorable to Dominion. 

Hewitt, one of the Republican leaders who successfully pressured Ardoin, said during Tuesday’s committee that her bill would provide a more “transparent and open process” for procuring voting systems and machines, adding that it would allow public input during each step of the process except for the request for proposals. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has repeatedly insisted that the presidential election was conducted fairly and without fraud

About a dozen angry Shreveport residents showed up to Tuesday’s committee meeting spouting virtually every false election conspiracy theory the internet had to offer. 

“We’re digging deep,” Lenar Whitney, a former state lawmaker from Houma, said while holding up a website printout that she falsely claimed was evidence of election fraud. “I have all kinds of websites and sites that you can just click on a link and get educated and get caught up quickly about what’s been going on.”

While she claimed Louisiana would soon fall prey to election fraud, others insisted the state’s voting machines had already been hacked — some even suggesting that legislators and officials such as Ardoin might be complicit in what anonymous internet users have claimed is a “deep-state” coverup. Many in the group referred to obscure videos on YouTube and other unverified websites as their sources of information. One man, who claimed without proof to be an expert on voting system security, suggested that ballots from the state’s voting machines could be “teleported to China” and other foreign countries. 

David Oliver, a Shreveport accountant, wrote in support of the bill, “especially with the focus of minimizing the authority of our Secretary of State Ardoin.” Shreveport resident Lisa Chilvers wrote to repeat a widely debunked conspiracy that machines were hacked and votes were systematically flipped. Independent experts and election officials — several of whom are Republicans — have offered mounds of evidence proving such claims false.

Many of those promoting conspiracies were upset that Hewitt’s bill would not mandate the use of paper ballots, an argument that several experts and politicians across the spectrum have defended as a more secure method of voting because it leaves a trail. Some even credit paper ballots with having prevented former President Donald Trump from stealing the election, according to a Truthout article. Challenges from Trump and his supporters in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona failed in part because of paper ballots. 

Pushing back against the Shreveport crowd, Ardoin said while he has not watched every YouTube video, not one of their “so-called experts” has ever called his office to even attempt to investigate any election results or voting systems.

In closing, Hewitt said she would be open to amending the bill to allow for paper ballots or paper receipts.

“We hear you,” Hewitt said. “We want you to continue to be involved…We’ll continue to make this bill better as it moves through the process.”

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