Louisiana's Voting Machine Contract Winner Defends Selection


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The company chosen to replace Louisiana's years-old voting machines on Wednesday dismissed suggestions the bid process was mismanaged, saying a losing bidder for the lucrative work offered no "factual or legal grounds sufficient" to disrupt the contract plans.

Dominion Voting Systems filed its official response to a protest of the contract award that Election Systems and Software lodged with the state procurement office. Dominion said its competitor simply wants another chance at winning the contract, without offering substantive reasons for throwing out the contract award.

"Dominion disputes all allegations of impropriety, undue haste, carelessness or lack of diligence by the state in reviewing the proposals, unfairness, or any other disadvantage claimed by ES&S in its protest," Trippe Hawthorne, an attorney representing Dominion, wrote in the vendor's response letter.

Contract negotiations with Dominion to replace 10,000 early voting and Election Day machines are stalled while the protest is under review. Dominion asked the state procurement office to end that delay, saying continued postponement of the replacement work "would compromise the public interest."

Raising a long list of complaints, Election Systems and Software said the process used to choose Dominion was bungled by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, his office and the team that evaluated the bids. The vendor wants a redo of the selection work.

Ardoin, a Republican in the job since May, issued his response Friday. He said his office "at all times acted in the best interests of the state to secure the best, most cost-effective voting technology for the citizens."

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 formal protest, but sent a letter to the Office of State Procurement supporting the protest from Election Systems and Software.

Dominion estimated its contract would cost the state between $89 million and $95 million.

During the bid process, Election Systems and Software accused the secretary of state's office of trying to rig the outcome by issuing voting machine standards only Dominion, which holds the existing contract with the state, could meet. Ardoin said the standards shouldn't have been posted and weren't used to evaluate bidders.

Dominion said its competitor's concerns were addressed by state officials as soon as they were raised, didn't affect the contract selection and shouldn't "paint the entirety of the procurement as problematic."

Dominion noted the Office of State Procurement responded with a directive removing Ardoin from the evaluation process. In its protest, Election Systems and Software alleged he didn't fully comply, a claim that Ardoin disputes.

Election Systems and Software also claimed that Louisiana selected a proposal involving outdated hardware and uncertified equipment and that Dominion's bid was scored improperly.

Dominion pushed back, saying it will provide "new, uniform, cutting-edge and industry-leading technology." It said the Office of State Procurement has wide latitude in judging bids and Election Systems and Software didn't show any evidence the decision-making was unfair.

Lawyers and other experts are examining the protest claims. Any decision by the procurement office leader on whether to uphold or overturn the contract award can be appealed.

– by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter

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