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Louisiana Has Lots of Options for Next Voting System

The state Voting Systems Commission recommendations include ballots that can be marked by hand; ballots that are marked in a machine; preprinted ballots; and ballots that are printed for voters at the precinct.

(TNS) — When Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin goes out to replace the 10,000 or so aging voting machines the state uses each election, he will have an abundance of flexibility.

The state Voting Systems Commission, which was supposed to sort through the alternatives and recommend what kind of system it wanted for Louisiana, basically forwarded nearly everything on the table Wednesday: ballots that can be marked by hand; ballots that are marked in a machine; preprinted ballots; and ballots that are printed for voters at the precinct.

The one thing commissioners did choose was how the votes would be tallied: Paper ballots will be scanned, counted and locked in a box. They will not be counted by hand.

The 13-member commission was born during the height of false claims that Donald Trump lost his presidential reelection because of widespread fraud. The panel held many long hearings over many months to reach Wednesday's denouement where commissioners would tell Ardoin how they would like to see Louisiana vote in the future.

Ardoin now will translate those thoughts into regulations, which, after the public has a chance to comment, will be the base that elections hardware and software companies will use to describe what equipment and services they could provide and what cost. The state would then choose a bidder and negotiate a contract.

Ardoin said the lack of specificity from the commission gives him more flexibility in cobbling together the regulations and ensures more companies can participate in the bidding process.

Louisiana is one of the last states still relying on direct-recording electronic voting machines, which are not outfitted with devices to make a paper record that Ardoin says could be used to audit results and reassure voters that their votes are being accurately counted. Plus, the machines are so old that finding replacement parts is becoming increasingly difficult.

The meeting came after nine vendors gave state and local elections officials, as well as the public, a hands-on opportunity to use the systems they sell.

One of the 13 commissioners, Lillian DeJean, appointed by the Governor's Office of Disability Affairs, abstained from voting on the recommendations, saying none of the vendors had equipment or training enough to ensure the disabled community could vote easily, safely and securely. Indeed, the attachments to aid disabled voting for two vendors broke down during the presentations.

Like the previous hearings, Wednesday's nearly eight-hour meeting was separated between public comment and that of elections officials.

Officials charged with staging elections argued practical concerns, like how precinct workers would keep up with thousands of preprinted ballots to ensure that a couple hundred don't walk off and end up being stuffed in a ballot box with the same candidates' name being checked.

Amanda Gross, of the West Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court's Office, did an experiment using two accountants to tabulate the votes on 50 ballots at a single precinct. Turned out the count of only 50 ballots took 45 minutes and that particular polling station cast 750 votes.

Brandon Abadie, director of elections for East Baton Rouge Parish, feared humidity. Some of Baton Rouge's polling stations are in firehouses and garages without climate controls. The paper could stick together or warp and cause printer jams, he said.

The public testimony focused on hand-counting ballots.

Mike Lindell, the founder and CEO of My Pillow Inc., who has pushed Trump's false election claims, said "all machines" are open to cyberattacks and manipulations that undermine elections.

He argued for counting handwritten ballots by hand. "We lose everything when we use the machines," said Lindell.

Many of the speakers demanding hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots also testified during the recent legislative session against vaccinations. Christy Haik opposed adding a second minority-majority congressional district earlier this year.

On Wednesday, Haik scolded parish clerks for saying they couldn't hire enough commissioners to count ballots by hand. She said a return to paper ballots and hand tabulation would energize "patriots" to come count.

Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret said he would take the opportunity to advertise for more poll workers, as the hearing was livestreamed.

(c)2022 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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