First phase of transition to new Louisiana voting system expected to cost about $12 million

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

The first phase of Louisiana’s transition to a new voting system will cost about $12 million, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said.

Ardoin, whose office runs the state’s elections, is requesting $1.3 million from the state general fund this session, which will be used as a match to qualify for $6.6 million in federal funds, he said. A state fund that contains $5.8 million will be used to cover the rest.

“There is no way, under any circumstances, that we will have new equipment for the [2020] presidential election,” Ardoin said.

The Secretary of State’s office attempted to award a contract for a new voting system, worth up to $95 million, in 2018. That process started under Tom Schedler, Ardoin’s predecessor. But Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration scrapped the contract, saying the office didn’t follow rules meant to protect the integrity of the solicitation process.

Ardoin told members of the legislature’s governmental affairs committee that he couldn’t publicly discuss details of the new procurement process prior to the issuance of the request for proposals. He expects to meet with procurement officials soon to discuss the RFP.

Once the proposal is finalized, Ardoin expects to have further discussions with lawmakers about how much additional money over how many years will be needed for the full transition to a new system, he said.

Ardoin also is seeking a pay bump for election commissioners that work during the early voting period from $100 a day to $150. He says it is becoming more difficult to find commissioners, and said it is helpful to be able to retain the same commissioners for consistency throughout the early voting process.

About 31 percent of voters during the last state election voted early, he said.

Among a package of election-related bills Ardoin’s office is supporting is one that would allow clerks of court to summon law enforcement to voting locations to restore order if needed. Under current law, only election commissioners have that authority, and on-duty law enforcement officers are not allowed to enter a polling place without the commissioner’s permission.

The quickest way to disrupt an election is to shut down a polling place for some period of time, Ardoin said. Though he doesn’t expect it will be necessary, giving a clerk this legal right could be useful if the commissioner in charge is incapacitated.

“As we go through all of the discussions of how to keep our voters safe and our commissioners safe, this is one of the areas we felt needed some immediate attention,” he said.