Another Company Protests Louisiana’s Voting Machine Search

Election 2020 Louisiana
People participate in a “Parade to the Polls” event, organized by Operation Go Vote!, a collaborative of African American civic and social organizations, in New Orleans, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Another elections technology firm is objecting to the terms of Louisiana’s voting machine search, accusing the secretary of state of trying to manipulate the bid process to benefit its current contractor and raising echoes of the dispute that derailed efforts to get new machines three years ago.

Election Systems and Software filed a formal protest with Louisiana’s procurement office about the criteria that Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top elections official, is using to replace 10,000 Election Day and early voting machines.

The Nebraska-based voting system vendor, known as ES&S, said Ardoin’s bid solicitation will limit the state to choosing a “system virtually identical to the current system.” ES&S said it’s impossible for any company to meet the criteria except for Louisiana’s current contractor, Dominion Voting Systems.

“It is a noncompetitive solicitation,” ES&S lawyers wrote in the protest filed Friday with Louisiana’s chief procurement officer, Paula Tregre.

The company successfully disputed Louisiana’s last voting machine search in 2018, scuttling a contract award to Dominion and causing Ardoin to redo the replacement work.

ES&S is the second interested bidder in Louisiana’s voting machine contract to object to the search terms Ardoin issued in January. Tregre has stalled the search process while reviewing the previous complaint filed by Texas-based Hart InterCivic that criticized the bid solicitation as too narrowly drawn.

Tregre sent a letter Monday to ES&S saying the temporary pause in the bid solicitation remains in place. It’s unclear when Tregre will allow it to resume or if she’ll require changes in the approach.

Ardoin’s office didn’t directly respond Monday to the latest protest filing, saying it hadn’t yet received a copy from the procurement office. But the elections chief previously defended his office’s search for voting machines as fair, saying it was developed in coordination with the Office of State Procurement and abides by state law.

Though specific details of the objections are different, the latest dispute centers on a similar premise to the complaints three years ago: allegations the secretary of state’s office is setting contractor search parameters that outright favor Colorado-based Dominion.

“It’s Deja vu all over again,” lawyers for ES&S said in the protest letter.

Three years ago, the secretary of state’s office started looking for a contractor under Ardoin’s predecessor and former boss, Tom Schedler. Dominion was chosen to provide new machines out of three companies that bid for the work, estimating the replacement could cost up to $95 million.

But Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration voided the contract award to the company months later amid accusations from ES&S that the secretary of state’s office attempted to manipulate the outcome. Tregre said at that time the secretary of state’s office didn’t follow legal requirements in choosing the winning vendor. Ardoin and Dominion disagreed. But Dominion didn’t dispute the matter in court.

This time, ES&S argues the type of paper trail, screen sizes, pricing requirements and phased-in installation plan sought by Ardoin for new machines prejudice the search in favor of Dominion. Hart InterCivic made similar claims.

Meanwhile, Trump supporters are calling on Ardoin to block Dominion as a potential bidder, insisting the company’s machines were somehow to blame for Trump’s loss in key swing states — but not his victory in Louisiana. Dominion has sued several high-profile figures nationally for spreading the baseless claims.

The head of the Louisiana Senate’s elections oversight committee, Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, has called on Ardoin to shelve his current search for voting machines. She said Ardoin rushed into the process without enough public discussion and legislative oversight — particularly amid intense national scrutiny about elections.

 

By AP reporter Melinda Deslatte

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