Kyle 120818

Republican Kyle Ardoin, of Baton Rouge, announces Saturday night, Dec. 8, 2018, that he has won the race for secretary of state.

Louisiana won’t get new voting machines in time for next year's big elections, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The effort to purchase new machines, which would leave a paper audit trail, was one of the issues during the campaign that ended Saturday with the election of Kyle Ardoin, a Baton Rouge Republican, as Louisiana Secretary of State.

As a candidate Ardoin said nailing down the purchase of the 10,000 machines in time to train staff and commissioners how to use them in the October 2019 election was one of the main reasons he decided to run. The machines the state bought in 2005, Ardoin said during the campaign, were so old that parts couldn’t be found for repairs.

He said the other candidates running for secretary of state didn’t have enough experience to handle this purchase and juggle other election-related issues, all while preparing for the Oct. 12 election that will select the governor and six other executives elected statewide as well as all 144 legislators.

But the process to decide which vendor would sell the state those machines fell apart over allegations of improper meddling. The state’s chief procurement officer rejected the winning $95 million bid by Dominion Voting Systems Inc., of Denver, and ordered the process to begin again.

Ardoin could have immediately restarted the bidding process after that decision. He could do so at any moment of his choosing under state law.

Prior to Saturday’s election, Secretary of State’s spokesman, Tyler Brey, told the Associated Press that Ardoin had no timeline and was waiting to see if Dominion would file a lawsuit challenging the procurement officer’s decision. The deadline for Dominion to go to court is later this week.

Ardoin was “unavailable for media requests” and refused Tuesday to be interviewed about this or any other issue involving the Secretary of State’s office. His staff refused to answer specific questions about voting machines, but Brey acknowledged Tuesday the purchase was being delayed for the time being.

Initially, the Secretary of State’s office had wanted to install the Election Day voting system on the department’s servers by April 1, 2019 and have new machines up and running in five parishes by the Oct. 12 election, according to the bid documents. Then the new machines would be phased into the other parishes in time for the 2020 elections.

The department had roughly $1.5 million earmarked to begin funding the purchase of new voting equipment, according to bid documents.

The Secretary of State’s Office requested proposals on March 27. Three companies responded.

As former Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s top assistant, Ardoin chaired the committee that evaluated the bids. But Ardoin left the committee shortly after taking over the secretary of state post on an interim basis after his boss resigned on May 8 because of sexual harassment claims.

On May 11, the standards on which the bids were being based abruptly changed to benefit of Dominion, according to a complaint filed by Election Systems & Software LLC, one of the losing bidders.

Ardoin wrote the Office of State Procurement in September that it was all a big mistake.

Back in April, someone in the office had uploaded the wrong specifications – one for vote-counting machinery as opposed to criteria for voting machines, he wrote. The mistake was discovered, and the correct documents were posted in May, he wrote, adding that the committee began evaluating the proposals only after he left.

On July 12, acting in his ministerial duty as secretary of state, Ardoin signed off on the committee’s recommendation that Dominion get the contract.

A protest was filed Aug. 23 by Election Systems & Software LLC alleging, among other things, that the specifications had been changed midway through the process to benefit Dominion.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.