Voters exit a precinct at the Lake Charles Civic Center. (Photo by JC Canicosa / Louisiana Illuminator)
A panel that’s evaluating Louisiana’s next choice for voting machine technology chose Wednesday to give itself more time to take a closer look at their options. A state law approved in 2021 calls for the state to move on from the electronic devices it has used since the early 2000s to a system that scans paper ballots, yet some on the panel say the current system only needs to updated.
The Louisiana Voting System Commission has been holding meetings since November. Its agenda for Wednesday included making a recommendation on the state’s next voting system to Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who chairs the 13-member group that includes four state lawmakers.
One of its members, Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, asked the commission to delay its recommendation until their next meeting until he and other legislators could “physically inspect” the ballot marking devices and scanners under consideration. Stefanski was tasked with leading redistricting efforts in the House of Representatives during an 18-day special special legislative session that ended Friday. He told members he had yet to see any of the options being considered.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, who led redistricting in the Senate, also sits on the commission and sponsored the legislation that created it. Her legislation to pull together a voting system panel came after supporters of former President Donald Trump descended on a legislative committee last year and repeated Trump’s lie that the election was stolen.
Hewitt’s law calls for Louisiana to retire its direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. They became to go-to option for states after the 2000 presidential election, where the outcome in the deciding state of Florida came down to “hanging chad” paper ballots.
Since false claims of election fraud from the 2020 election have proliferated, there has been a call for hand-written ballots that can be physically counted and audited. Advocates for the disabled oppose that option, given its accessibility limitations. Commission member Lillian Dejean said Wednesday that the disability community should be part of any inspection that’s organized for the panel. Ardoin agreed.
Election officials have explored ballot marking devices (BMDs) that let voters use a touch screen to make their election choices and then print out a completed ballot that can be scanned and tabulated.
Commission member Dr. Mike McClanahan, president of the NAACP Louisiana State Conference, pressed Ardoin after the Secretary of State acknowledged there had been no reports of fraud involving DRE machines.
“I got an old car that’s working. I ain’t about to buy a new one,” McClanahan said.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, also questioned Ardoin about the need to totally abandon the DRE system given the lack of fraud. She said local elections officials have told her a complete replacement of the existing technology is not necessary.
Peterson suggested adding a paper component to DRE machines to provide the auditable trail being sought. Ardoin said Hewitt’s law doesn’t allow that option, and Peterson said she intends to author a proposal in the upcoming legislative session that would offer that choice.
Stefanski’s motion to delay the panel’s recommendation was approved without objection. The commission’s next meeting date has not been officially set, but members have been meeting about every two weeks.
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