Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Louisiana Secretary of State race goes to runoff

by BIZ Magazine

By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator

Republican Nancy Landry and Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup finished in a near dead heat Saturday to advance to a Nov. 18 runoff election for Louisiana secretary of state.

Landry and Collins-Greenup both polled 19% of the vote, just ahead of the third-place finisher, Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, a Republican, at 18%.  With only a few precincts left to tally, the difference between Landry and Collins-Greenup was roughly 700 votes out more than 1 million cast based on unofficial totals from the secretary of state’s office.

Landry, a former state lawmaker from Lafayette, currently serves as first assistant and second in command to Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who chose not to seek reelection, since 2019. 

Collins-Greenup is a Baton Rouge attorney and accountant who previously ran for the office in 2018. She surprised Louisiana’s political establishment when she earned a spot in the runoff that year against Ardoin, who was the interim secretary of state at the time. 

The pair emerged from a crowded race of candidates that also included three other Republicans —Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, retired businessman Thomas Kennedy III and grocery store owner Brandon Trosclair — as well as longtime Orleans Parish Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell, a Democrat, and no-party candidate Amanda Smith Jennings.

The winner of the Nov. 18 general election will take over an office that has recently come under pressure and scrutiny from far-right election conspiracy theorists — one of the reasons Ardoin declined to seek reelection. 

While Collins-Greenup has mentioned little about such theories, Landry has at times entertained them. During a Sept. 22 candidate forum the Public Affairs Research Council hosted, she acknowledged Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election but stated there were “some very troubling allegations” of voting irregularities in swing states. She offered no specifics or explanations for her claim. 

Her boss, Ardoin, took a similar approach over his last years in office. After initially pushing back against them, Ardoin occasionally tried to appease and work with them. 

Ardoin allowed MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a leading proponent of disproven election fraud theories, to share disinformation at an official hearing of the Louisiana Voting Systems Commission, which the secretary of state chaired. 

Ardoin also pulled Louisiana out of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan, multi-state collaborative that monitors  multiple states for illegally voting. ERIC had 30 member states, both Republican and Democrat, and operated without issue for more than a decade until it became the target of a far-right website that falsely claimed it was a secret voter registration drive bankrolled by liberal billionaire George Soros. 

Ardoin eventually turned on the conspiracy crowd when he decided not to seek reelection. 

“I hope that Louisianans of all political persuasions will stand against the pervasive lies that have eroded trust in our elections by using conspiracies so far-fetched that they belong in a work of fiction,” Ardoin said in a statement. “The vast majority of Louisiana’s voters know that our elections are secure and accurate, and it is shameful and outright dangerous that a small minority of vocal individuals have chosen to denigrate the hard work of our election staff and spread unproven falsehoods.”

Aside from managing elections, the secretary of state manages business registrations, the state archives and a handful of museums. The most pressing task for the next office holder will be replacing Louisiana’s aging voting machines — a job that has become unusually difficult due to election conspiracies. 

Ardoin has twice tried to purchase new systems for the state to replace its outdated machines. His last attempt in 2021 stalled after conspiracy theorists launched a pressure campaign to eliminate the current vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, from the competition. 

Since then, the Louisiana Legislature approved a law that requires the state to use electronic voting machines that produce some kind of paper trail. Examples would be a hybrid, such as a machine-marked paper ballots or hand-marked paper ballots with machine scanners.

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