Losing Bidder Disputes Louisiana Voting Machine Award
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — One of the losing bidders for Louisiana's voting machine replacement work wants a re-do, saying the bid process was "irresponsibly rushed and fundamentally flawed."
Election Systems and Software filed a formal protest late Thursday with the state's procurement office, objecting to the choice of another vendor for the lucrative contract.
The protesting company said the process used to choose Dominion Voting Systems to replace 10,000 early voting and Election Day machines was mishandled from the start by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, his office and the team that evaluated the bids.
"This solicitation, the evaluation process and resulting award have all been marred by hastiness and willful blindness to the proposals submitted," Thomas Clark, a lawyer representing Election Systems and Software, wrote in the lengthy protest letter.
Ardoin defended the contracting process, saying the evaluation committee "selected the best voting machines to keep Louisiana at the forefront of election security and integrity."
At Dominion, a spokeswoman said they hadn't been notified of the protest and couldn't comment.
The protest triggers a review that should take several weeks. Jacques Berry, spokesman for the Office of State Procurement, said lawyers and other experts will examine the losing bidder's claims. Any decision to uphold or overturn the contract award can be appealed.
Election Systems and Software wants the state to delay contract negotiations with Dominion until the protest is resolved.
The secretary of state's office wants to replace voting machines bought in 2005 with smaller devices, improved technology and a paper record of votes aimed at offering extra security. Three companies competed: Dominion, Hart InterCivic and Election Systems and Software.
Hart InterCivic didn't file a protest by Thursday's deadline.
Election Systems and Software had accused the secretary of state's office of bid-rigging by issuing voting machine standards only Dominion could meet. Ardoin said those standards shouldn't have been posted, were withdrawn and weren't used to evaluate bidders. The Office of State Procurement responded with a directive removing him from the evaluation process. In its protest letter, Election Systems and Software alleged that Ardoin didn't fully comply.
"His actions have irreparably tainted a flawed procurement," Clark wrote.
Ardoin, a Republican, took over as secretary of state in May when his former boss resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. The bid process started before Ardoin was in charge and continued when he moved into the top job. He's running to keep the position on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Election Systems and Software raised a litany of additional complaints, saying Louisiana selected a proposal involving outdated hardware and equipment that isn't properly certified by federal authorities. The letter says Dominion's bid was scored improperly and the evaluation team didn't do comparative testing of the security features of different systems.
Ardoin's office said Dominion was the low bidder for the voting machine replacement, with the company estimating the work would cost between $89 million and $95 million.
Election Systems and Software said it offered alternative proposals that were millions of dollars cheaper, but weren't scored in the bid review. Hart InterCivic also has said it offered a less expensive proposal that doesn't appear in the scoring documents.
Ardoin said he trusts the process, saying: "In a highly competitive environment there are always winners, losers and challenges."
– by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter