Unfounded conspiracy theories and frequently repeated falsehoods led to the creation of a Voting Systems Commission last year to review the selection of new election equipment for the state of Louisiana. After months of hearings that fomented the fabrication, it should come as no surprise that the final scheduled commission meeting last week culminated with an appearance from arguably the biggest purveyor of the Big Lie.
Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow and chief purporting huckster for the 2020 election, traveled to Baton Rouge for the commission’s June 29 meeting. The panel’s leader, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, laid aside procedural rules for Lindell when he took the microphone, for no stated reason other than that he was “a gentleman that traveled from a far, far away place – Minnesota.”
Where other speakers before the commission were limited to three minutes, Ardoin used “chairman’s privilege” to give Lindell an unfettered platform. The pillow sham pitchman spent more than 17 minutes detailing his national quest to root out large-scale election fraud that legitimate officials have declared did not occur.
Lindell labeled Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger “the worst secretary of state in the country” with claims that elections earlier this year were “stolen” after candidates that former President Donald Trump backed lost primaries. He also slammed the leading election technology companies, suggesting they have been complicit in such schemes.
It all served to support Lindell’s argument for hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots to replace Louisiana’s direct recording electronic (DRE) machines because “we lose everything when we use machines.”
Local election officials in Louisiana have acknowledged it is past time for Louisiana to replace its DRE machines, a technology that became the industry standard after the 2000 presidential election when paper ballots in Florida with “hanging chads” were called into question. But there is unanimous agreement among the same officials that reverting back to hand-marked ballots would be a huge step in the wrong direction.
“It would be a travesty to let a minority of people who have little to no experience in election administration tear down an exceptional process that was painstakingly built over many, many years,” Calcasieu Parish Clerk of Court Lynn Jones told the commission after Lindell’s speech. “And for us to throw it out of the window because of unfounded theories is mind boggling.”
Jones said he and his peers statewide are in favor of ballot-marking devices that produce “a voter-verified paper audit trail.” The most popular version of this technology involves a touch screen ballot that prints out a completed ballot for the voter to check, and then it is digitally scanned and counted.
Although it will take more election commissioners to oversee ballot scanning — manpower that he explained is scarce in Calcasieu — Jones said it would be just a fraction of what’s necessary to count hand-marked ballots. He told commission members some 1,500 election workers would be needed in his parish, which struggled to attract 500 people for the most recent election cycle.
“We’re not in the business of pillow stuffing,” Jones said in a pointed jab at Lindell. “I don’t know how to do that, but I know how to run an election.”
In the two days before last week’s meeting, a showcase was held for commission members and the public to take an up-close look at different voting machines and how they work. After six months of meetings and a hands-on exhibition, you would think the panel would have a specific recommendation to make to the Secretary of State.
They didn’t. In the end, their recommendations were broad enough for Ardoin to go in either direction: hand-written ballots or ballot-marking devices. The commission did agree that ballots should not be hand-counted but rather put through scanners for an official tally.
Voices of reason were in the minority on the commission, drowned out as the echo chamber of the Big Lie steered conversations month after month.
Commission member Lillian DeJean, representing people with disabilities, abstained from voting on the recommendations last week because none of the technologies being reviewed ensured reliable access for voters with disabilities. When she brought up their accessibility and privacy rights to Lindell, he interrupted her.
“Well, it’s not private when there’s machines. They’re not private,” he said, and then picked up his smartphone and spoke directly into it. “Tim Cook, can you hear me in there? … He’s the CEO of Apple, and I’m sure he’s listening right now.”
This has been the prevalent tenor at Voting Systems Commission meetings over the past eight months, with Ardoin presiding and allowing misinformation to go essentially unchallenged. That’s surprising, given that he accused fellow Republicans of playing “political football” when they pressured him to scrap his second attempt at seeking bids for new voting machines.
As commission members reviewed the options available to them, Ardoin said the feedback he receives from voters “everywhere I go” is to move Louisiana toward hand-marked paper ballots. That may say more about the company he keeps rather than the actual demand for old-school elections.
If Secretary of State Ardoin is indeed committed to secure elections in Louisiana’s future, he should avoid a choice based on the Big Lie that would send the state back in time.
Greg LaRose is editor of Louisiana Illuminator