Commentary

Cost, manpower are bigger concerns for Louisiana election officials than voter fraud

March 4, 2022 1:36 pm
Right-wing protestors in Maricopa County, Arizona

Right-wing protesters gather outside the Maricopa County Elections Department on Nov. 4, 2020, demanding that all ballots for Donald Trump be counted. Inside the building, election workers were busy counting hundreds of thousands of ballots. (Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror)

A false narrative continues to steer conversations about updating Louisiana’s voting system technology. While the machines are indeed overdue for replacement, potential voter fraud is far down the list of concerns from local election officials. They’ve told the committee making a recommendation on new machines to the secretary of state that they’re more worried about the cost, manpower and logistics attached to the new system.

Despite repeated insistence from fringe conspiracy theorists, there has been no proof that widespread voter fraud affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” continues to be just that. 

The Voting System Commission, created last year in a legislative act, will choose between hand-marked ballots or touch-screen machines that print out a completed ballot for voters to review. Ballots would then be fed into a scanner for tabulation or alternatively counted by hand.   

What’s certain is that Louisiana will move on from its current direct-recording electronic voting machines, or DREs. Their manufacturer, Dominion Voting Systems, has been pilloried with baseless claims of foreign interference after the 2020 election, all of which the National Intelligence Council has refuted. In response, Dominion has filed a $1 billion defamation lawsuit against those making false claims.

Yet that didn’t deter John Milkovich, a former state senator, from revisiting the falsehood at the Feb. 23 Voting System Commission meeting. Through Dominion machines, Communist China has been in charge of counting votes in the Bible belt of Louisiana, he warned, urging officials to avoid the “Dominion vote mafia” at all costs. 

This is the same John Milkovich who, as a Senate member, pinned the blame on vaccines for autism.      

This determined avoidance of facts has been evident in public testimony at every Voting System Commission meeting. Voters as well as elected officials, either unknowingly misled or willfully misleading, have repeated a call for Louisiana to revert to hand-marked ballots, even though disability advocates call it the ‘worst possible’ option.

Local election officials say any system that depends on paper brings with it a host of logistical and supply chain concerns. Not only would paper need to be kept in a climate-controlled setting, but air-conditioned warehouses would be needed for the touch-screen machines and scanners. Clerks of court from around the state have told the Voting System Commission some of their precincts aren’t large enough to host the additional equipment, and many of them do not have air conditioning or heating.

Robin Hooter, Rapides Parish clerk of court, said there are 617 out of about 3,700 voting precincts statewide without air conditioning. She has had employees bring space heaters from the clerk’s offices to voting precincts for winter elections. At one location, she said voters have to walk through the sleeping quarters of a fire station to access bathrooms.   

When it comes to housing the new machines, “I just don’t know logistically how we do that,” Hooter said. 

David Stamey, Natchitoches Parish clerk of court, estimated updated or new voting machine  warehouses statewide would cost in excess of $100 million, money he said local officials would seek from the state. 

He and other local officials also noted the struggle to attract and retain election commissioners to work at the polls on Election Day. The addition of scanners at polling sites will require one or two more commissioners per precinct, and the $200 in compensation they’re currently offered for a 15-hour workday is inadequate, officials said.  

Lynn Jones, clerk of court in Calcasieu Parish for 17 years, said he needs between 850 to 900 commissioners to staff a major election. His count is currently down by about 400, a trend he said started before the area sustained hits from two major hurricanes.

“One thing is just the overall national rhetoric that’s going on in this (2020) election,” Jones said. “People, they don’t want to get involved. Commissioners and election officials are being vilified. It’s trickling down to here.” 

A voting system that relies totally on paper ballots is not the answer, Vernon Parish Clerk of Court Jeff Skidmore told commission members last month. His concerns over human resources involve the ability to handle a literally heavy workload. 

“Do the commissioners have the physical strength to carry hundreds of pieces of paper, load them into their vehicles, drive them to the clerk’s office and drop them off?” Skidmore asked.   

Yet the hand-marked paper ballot brigade will continue its cry as the Voting System Commission marches toward a final selection. Their harangues have routinely cited nationally recognized election security expert Alex Halderman, who has warned of the susceptibility of DRE voting machines and touch-screen devices. 

What they conveniently exclude is Halderman’s acknowledgement that there has been no evidence that these vulnerabilities affected the outcome of the 2020 election. Election officials should pay heed to his guidance, just as any business or institution would when it comes to malware and hacking threats. Abandoning all technology would be an extreme and absurd measure.  

It’s difficult for Louisiana when its secretary of state provides a stage for 2020 election deniers, but it’s not too late for the Voting System Commission he chairs to squelch the Big Lie in public forums. Any effort otherwise calls their motives into question.  

Greg LaRose is editor of the Louisiana Illuminator. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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