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Bill allowing legislative oversight in selection of new voting machine advances through Louisiana Senate

By Sydney McGovern

LSU Manship School News Service

A bill to allow legislative oversight in selecting new voting machines advanced through the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday. 

The bill, authored by Senator Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, establishes a Voting System Technology Commission to review voting systems and a proposal review commission to make recommendations to the secretary of state. 

“It’s making sure that we have a very fair, open and transparent process as we go forward,” she said. “The statute, then, that I’m proposing is more about process and less about the answer because the idea is to have a process that works today as well as 20 years from now.”

Current law allows the secretary of state to establish rules relating to the preparation and use of voting systems. It also states that the secretary of state is responsible for the procurement of new voting systems. The proposed bill requires these duties to be carried out in coordination with the new commissions.  

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said he still had some questions about how exactly the process would work. But he promised to work with Hewitt, the committee chairwoman, on improving the legislation as it moves forward, and the committee’s action seemed to be a step toward settling an earlier disagreement about how the Legislature would oversee his efforts to buy new voting machines for the state.

The bill faced scrutiny at the hearing from various individuals who cited unproven claims about election security that circulated after the November presidential election. While they referred to Hewitt’s bill as a first step, they maintained that it did not go far enough. 

A number of individuals testified in favor of paper ballots. Craig Schiro, a former engineer in the oil and gas industry, argued that the state can no longer rely on electronic voting systems. 

“People want to be able to have trust in their vote, and that means that we have to have, as the document of record, a secure piece of paper that cannot be teleported to China, cannot be teleported outside of the United States of America,” he said.    

Lenar Whitney, a member of the Louisiana delegation of the Republican National Committee, raised concerns of alleged fraud in the 2020 presidential election and echoed the desire for paper ballots. 

“Sometimes I want to cry because we’re losing our country,” Whitney said, fighting back tears. She added, “Our one vote, our one right, our one constitutional commitment is being violated, and we don’t seem to have a voice that resonated loud enough with our leadership to say, ‘we hear you, we understand.’” 

Hewitt and Ardoin said that moving forward, they will consider all possible voting methods for future elections, including paper ballots. 

Hewitt, a former engineer at Shell Oil and senior manager for its oil and gas assets in the central Gulf of Mexico, said that she chose to focus on the process for establishing voting systems rather than specific election mechanisms like paper ballots. Establishing the commission, she said, is the key to providing for the most secure elections.    

“I feel really good about where we are,” Hewitt said. “I think that we’re on a good path, I think this does establish a good framework, and I look forward to continuing to work with the citizens.”

Earlier this year, Hewitt and Ardoin clashed over plans to acquire new voting machines. Hewitt accused Ardoin of rushing into the process without legislative oversight. Ardoin responded in a letter that Hewitt participated in a “politically motivated ruse” after he abandoned his plans. 

The proposed Voting System Technology Commission will be made up of the commissioner of elections, two House members, two Senate members, a member appointed by the governor, the secretary of state and the commissioner of administration. Members will also include a cyber-security expert and the executive director of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Disability Affairs. 

If the bill is passed, the commission will meet no later than September 1, 2021 and will submit a report of its findings by December 1, 2021. 

“This is our opportunity to lead the way for the entire country even more,” Ardoin said. “If you will, integrity on steroids.”