By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
Five candidates for Secretary of State laid out their positions on elections and business services on Thursday, offering competing visions for improving the agency.
The forum, hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council, featured Democratic candidates Gwen Collins-Greenup and former Orleans Parish Criminal Clerk of the Court Arthur Morrell and Republicans Nancy Landry, first assistant Secretary of State, Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis and business owner Brandon Trosclair.
Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder was unable to attend.
Several candidates highlighted a lack of public confidence in elections and low voter turnout as reasons to improve the system, though they offered different approaches.
Trosclair, owner of numerous businesses known for successfully challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate at the U.S. Supreme Court, noted that Louisiana is the only state that doesn’t audit elections and was the only candidate to push for exclusively paper hand-counted ballots.
“I think we have terrible elections in Louisiana,” he said. “I’m definitely a proponent of hand-marked and hand-counted.”
Trosclair was also the only candidate to answer “no” to whether President Biden won the 2020 election.
Collins-Greenup questioned whether the state has “the infrastructure to support a hand-counted paper ballot system” she said has “not been proven” to reduce risk of fraud.
Collins-Greenup, Landry, Morrell and Francis would prefer to shift to an electronic voting system that produces an auditable paper trail.
“I think our systems are fine right now,” Francis said, though he said clerks of courts have highlighted issues with the age of the current voting machines and securing parts to repair them.
Francis, who touted his experience as a business leader, said he would hold a technology conference with state officials, local clerks of courts and election personnel to vet available technology and select an electronic system that works best for locals.
“I’m going to listen to the people at the bottom,” he said.
Morrell, who has overseen about 100 elections in Orleans Parish over 16 years, said he “would like to see something similar to what we have” now.
“In Orleans, we’ve had very few machines break down,” he said.
All of the candidates agreed the Secretary of State does a fair good job with business services, though Landry acknowledged the state’s website needs an update. Francis suggested the department could collaborate with business leaders to “see if they could make it more business friendly.”
Collins-Greenup suggested the department could do more to encourage businesses to report fraud and make the website American Disabilities Act compliant, while Morrell would send state officials to business conventions to recruit more businesses to relocate to Louisiana.
“It’s important we have some sort of visibility outside this state,” he said.
Other topics included consolidating museum management which is currently split between the Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor’s office and early voting.
“Seven days is enough for people who know they’re going to be out of town to vote early,” Landry said. “It’s very, very expensive and the parishes have to share the cost of that.”
Trosclair also opposed expanding early voting, though he said Election Day should be a state holiday to ensure people have an opportunity to cast a ballot. Morrell “would like to see voting on Sundays,” while Collins-Green favored expanded early voting “if we have the infrastructure available.”
Francis also would “strongly support extending the early voting.”
Under Louisiana’s majority vote primary, all candidates will appear on the same ballot on Oct. 14. A candidate can win outright with more than 50% of the vote, but if that doesn’t happen the top two vote recipients head to a Nov. 18 general election.