The book on interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s nightstand for leisurely bedtime reading is “The Plot to Hack America.”
In it a former U.S. intelligence officer details how campaign emails were hacked, voter registration records were stolen, and false social media accounts were used to influence the 2016 presidential elections.
“What can I say? I’m an elections nerd,” said Ardoin, who spends much of his work day looking over computer codes and analyzing federal security reviews of Louisiana’s elections procedures.
He has such a passion for the work that despite unwavering declarations that he would not seek election to his agency’s top post in November, Ardoin submitted the paperwork and paid the fees to get his name on the ballot. He says he decided about 10 minutes before the close of candidate qualifying Friday evening.
His action enlivened what was expected to be a sleepy race to replace Tom Schedler, who quit soon after being accused of sexually harassing a subordinate.
Embroiled in controversy over allegations that he sexually harassed an employee for several years, Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler w…
Ardoin said that the other eight candidates are fine people but so much is happening on the state level and in the federal arena that he feels Louisiana’s new Secretary of State shouldn’t have to learn the job on the job.
“It’s a nonissue. We all know that governmental offices are changed over all the time. It has no relevance,” said candidate Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, noting that the election of a new governor replaces the entire government in one fell swoop.
The state representative said he was much more disappointed that Ardoin promised legislators, repeatedly, that he would focus on the work of the office and not on a campaign. “The work we have ahead of us in the short term is too important and too intense to run for the office,” Ardoin told the Press Club of Baton Rouge on June 4.
In the final moments before qualifying for the November election ended Friday, interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin reversed previous statem…
Ardoin showed Edmonds around the Secretary of State’s Office Friday morning but gave no hint that he had changed his mind about running. “I guess that’s the reason it was so very surprising. There was certainly no indication that he had any plans to run,” Edmonds told The Advocate Monday.
Former state Sen. A.G. Crowe, a Pearl River Republican who also is running for secretary of state, said Monday, “I would imagine Kyle will have to answer many questions regarding his change of heart from stating that he would not run for the office if he were chosen as the interim to then qualifying to run. Regaining the trust of the voters is a hurdle he will have to leap.”
Two days before he signed up to run, Ardoin told The Advocate of his concerns. He denied changing his mind – twice – but said the issues confronting the job have become more complex than merely holding the great seal, incorporating new businesses, archiving government documents, and watching the health of the governor and lieutenant governor because the secretary is next in line to take over Louisiana.
In the past year alone, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on just how elections officials can purge voters from registration rolls and defined, sort of, what constitutes an improperly gerrymandered district from which officials are elected.
Last month, the state was sued by African-American voters who claim their franchise was purposely diluted when the Legislature drew lines that split minority and politically-moderate communities into districts packed with conservative whites. Ardoin is listed as the main defendant, not because the Secretary of State had any input in how district lines were drawn, but because the office runs the elections.
Meanwhile, the bids to replace all the state’s voting machines will be ready in the next couple of weeks. Ardoin will be called upon to negotiate a deal for electronic voting machines that provide a verifiable paper trail. After the voter marks the ballot, the machine will print a piece of paper to verify the selections and the vote be cast when the paper is reinserted into the machine.
Come March 1, voting will be opened to thousands of convicted felons who have been out of prison for five years but remain on probation or parole. This requires coordinating data with the Department of Corrections, procedures that need to be put in place now.
All this while preparing for the Fall 2019 election that will feature the selection of the governor, six statewide officeholders and the entire Legislature. Whoever wins the November election to fill out Schedler’s final year will have to run for reelection in that same election.
The Louisiana Secretary of State’s race also is taking place during a flood of information about the integrity of American elections.
Special counsel Robert Mueller recently indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Much of last week was spent discussing just what President Donald Trump meant when he suggested that he didn’t believe the Russians were behind any cyber-based campaign to influence the election. Trump eventually said he misspoke.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated elections as a vital infrastructure, which means specialists are doing risk assessments and reviewing patterns of how people access voter registration and election data online.
“No longer can you just flip on the lights and everything runs,” Ardoin said of the office. “It’s a 24-7 monitoring of our online systems. There are bad actors out there who want to get into our system.”
Pollsters say a good 80 percent of Louisiana’s voters couldn’t call Tom Schedler’s name before he was sued for sexually harassing an employee. But that's not unusual. Most voters don't know who the Secretary of State is or many of the other statewide elected agency heads for that matter. Schedler resigned so abruptly that his name is still on the tens of thousands of envelopes and stationary the Secretary of State’s office uses for routine correspondence.
The other eight candidates on the ballot made only passing references to the scandal. Several even praised how the office has performed since Schedler left in May.
But that was before Ardoin decided to run.
As Schedler’s top aide, Ardoin was the go-to executive in the office for sexual complaints. After hearing that he planned to leave once a new secretary of state was elected, legislators did not drill Ardoin on what he knew and when it he knew it.
Lawmakers are asking what the interim secretary of state knew about his boss’s alleged sexual misconduct and when did he know it.
Ardoin said he knew nothing about the sexual harassment allegations until the staffer filed a lawsuit in February. He walked into Schedler’s office and expected a flat denial.
Ardoin does an open-mouthed impression of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” when Schedler said he didn’t sexually harass his subordinate, but he had an extramarital affair with her, which is also generally prohibited in work places.
In addition to Ardoin, Edmonds and Crowe the other candidates for Secretary of State are Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud, a Republican; Gwen Collins-Greenup, D-Clinton; Thomas J. Kennedy III, R-Metairie; and Matt Moreau, no party-Zachary; Renee Fontenot Free, D-Baton Rouge and a former first assistant secretary of state; and state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.
The Nov. 6 primary will be followed, if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, by a Dec. 8 runoff. Early voting for the primary is from Oct. 23 to Oct. 30, except on Sunday.