Louisiana Delays Voting Machine Contract Talks Amid Protest
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana is delaying contract negotiations with the winning bidder for the state's voting machine replacement work, while it considers a protest of the contract award.
Paula Tregre, director of the Office of State Procurement, has told Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to refrain from conducting any contract talks until the outcome of the protest is settled, according to documents provided to The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"The stay shall remain in effect until you are notified in writing that it has been lifted," Tregre wrote in a Friday letter to Ardoin.
She cited a state law that calls for stalling negotiations during the protest of a contract award unless the contract is deemed urgently needed "to protect the substantial interests of the state," a threshold Tregre apparently didn't believe was met.
One of the losing bidders for the voting machine contract, Election Systems and Software, filed the protest last week, objecting to the choice of Dominion Voting Systems for a deal estimated to cost the state up to $95 million.
Election Systems and Software said the process used to choose Dominion to replace 10,000 early-voting and Election Day machines was mishandled by Ardoin, his office and the team that evaluated the bids.
Ardoin has defended the contracting process as fair, saying the evaluation committee "selected the best voting machines to keep Louisiana at the forefront of election security and integrity." Dominion hasn't commented publicly on the protest, but has until Sept. 7 to submit a response to the Office of State Procurement.
Lawyers and other experts are examining the claims made by Election Systems and Software, and Tregre will use that analysis to decide whether to uphold or overturn the contract award. Her decision can be appealed.
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. Three companies competed. Hart InterCivic didn't file a protest.
During the bid process, Election Systems and Software accused the secretary of state's office of trying to manipulate the contract award 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 Ardoin said those standards shouldn't have been posted, were withdrawn and weren't used to evaluate bidders.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 Ardoin from the evaluation process. Among the many claims in its protest letter, Election Systems and Software alleged that Ardoin didn't fully comply.
The vendor also claimed that Louisiana selected a proposal involving outdated hardware and uncertified equipment and that Dominion's bid was scored improperly.
Ardoin, a Republican, became secretary of state in May when his boss resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. The bid process started before Ardoin was in charge and continued after he moved into the top job. He's running to keep the position in a November special election.
– by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter