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Louisiana started up a new process again for purchasing voting machines Wednesday, when it convened a new commission that will seek public input and vet the vendors applying for the state’s voting machine contract that could be worth $100 million.
The state’s efforts to replace its outdated election machines hasn’t gone smoothly over the last few years. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s two attempts to replace machines failed in part due to public concern about voter fraud and allegations that the process wasn’t fair to vendors.
Lawmakers on the Voting System Commission stressed bipartisan support and transparency, saying the public would be informed at every step of selecting the state’s new voting systems.
In 2018, a contract with the state’s current vendor Dominion Voting Systems, was voided due to an alleged mishandling of the bidding process. In March of this year, Ardoin reopened the bidding process, only to cancel again after he was accused of favoring Dominion. He was also criticized for not allowing more public discussion of the new system, according to the Associated Press
Ardoin has also had to navigate multiple baseless conspiracy theories surrounding Dominion Voting Systems, which supplied the state’s current machines.
But Ardoin said the newly-formed commission on voting machine selection was making a fresh start.
“This commission is not about the past but about our future, a future that provides Louisiana citizens with confidence that their vote will be accurately counted,” Ardoin said. “This is not a commission for political bias whether we are Republicans, Democrats or independents. This is a commission of elected leaders, election officials, community activists and professionals.”
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The commission will review all of the voting systems, discussing them during public hearings. It will then recommend a vendor to the secretary of state, who will request a bid from the chosen company.
The Voting System Commission was created last spring by Senate Bill 221. Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, who sponsored the legislation, said the goal was to create transparency.
Hewitt wrote the bill in response to baseless complaints about election fraud after the 2020 presidential election. While Donald Trump won in Louisiana, some residents still believe he was shortchanged of votes, though audits of the election show this is not the case.
The new law passed by Hewitt requires a paper trail for every vote, creating new election operating concerns. Currently, Louisiana’s elections are handled entirely electronically.
Under the new paper-based system, voters will receive a paper ballot that can be audited by hand. Skeptics favor the paper-based system because they believe it is harder to counterfeit votes.
However, there are several issues to sort out with a paper-based system, including concerns about ballot storage and the difficulties of auditing these ballots within the required election time frame. What type of accommodations must be provided for people with disabilities also needs to be worked out.
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Members of the public who spoke at the meeting reiterated their beliefs in election fraud, saying that votes are easily stolen with the current system, though there is no evidence of voter fraud.
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