Candidates: Stall Work To Replace Louisiana Voting Machines
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Candidates vying to be Louisiana secretary of state want to pause the work being done to replace the state's 10,000 voting machines until after the election, citing allegations of impropriety during the contractor selection.
Republican former state Sen. A.G. Crowe, one contender seeking to oust GOP Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, said he's asking the attorney general and legislative auditor to review the bid process for the contract that could be worth as much as $95 million.
"From there it can be determined whether the bids should be thrown out and the whole process should be started over," Crowe said Wednesday.
Republican Rep. Julie Stokes said the search for a vendor should start over "with a more independent and transparent bid process" after claims the secretary of state's office mishandled parts of the selection work and attempted to manipulate the outcome for the winning bidder.
"Questions still swirl around as to whether the interim secretary of state just stumbled, fumbled and bumbled the bid process or if he had more dubious intentions," Stokes said in a statement.
Democratic candidate Renee Fontenot Free said the voting machine replacement should be stalled until after an elected secretary of state is chosen.
Ardoin, a Republican and one of nine candidates in the race on the Nov. 6 ballot, took over the job as Louisiana's chief elections officer after a sexual harassment scandal ousted his boss Tom Schedler.
Since Schedler was in charge, the secretary of state's office has been working to replace existing, outdated voting machines with smaller equipment, improved technology and a paper trail.
Ardoin disagrees with assertions the office tried to rig the selection in favor of Dominion Voting Systems, who was announced as the winning vendor last week. He described the evaluation process as "fair and equitable for all bidders."
Contract negotiations with Dominion are expected to move forward soon.
"In our opinion, there's no reason to slow down the process," said secretary of state spokeswoman Meg Casper Sunstrom. "It's been given the stamp of approval" from the state procurement office.
Only three companies competed for the contract. Election Systems and Software raised allegations of impropriety during the process, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press. The company said the secretary of state's office issued voting machine standards only Dominion could meet.
Ardoin said the release of those standards was a mistake, and he withdrew them. He also scrapped a second set of standards that Election Systems and Software said were posted too late in the process and that Ardoin said were issued by Schedler without Ardoin's knowledge.
The contested standards weren't used to evaluate bidders, Ardoin said.
Free worked as top assistant to two prior secretaries of state, including when the last voting machine contractor was selected in 2005. She questioned why the Office of State Procurement, which oversaw the bid review and vendor selection, scrapped the original evaluation committee and removed Ardoin from the new review team.
"The complaints have to be substantial in order for you to redo the process," Free said.
Ardoin said he was part of that decision, because he had moved to a new role as secretary of state. In that position, he'd have to negotiate final contract terms with the winning bidder.
Republican candidate Rick Edmonds, a state lawmaker, said he worried both about the bid process and a price tag for the work that is tens of millions more than expected.
"I would say this process needs to cease and let the next elected secretary of state deal with this thing and regain the trust of the people back," Edmonds said.
– by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter