A Louisiana Senate panel on Tuesday backed a proposal to make a host of changes to how Louisiana buys new voting machines, after a recent effort to procure machines fell apart amid uproar from some voters who believe the 2020 election was rife with fraud.
The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee backed the legislation by Chairwoman Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, after lengthy testimony from concerned citizens and a Republican official who clamored for “secure paper ballots” and trashed Dominion Voting Systems, the company that currently provides Louisiana’s voting machines.
The committee also backed Senate Bill 220 by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, to require the Louisiana legislative auditor to conduct a review of Louisiana’s election processes.
The bills are among the first in a wave of election-related proposals that are expected to be heard during the legislative session that began last week. The push for voting changes come amid a national battle over efforts to tighten voting laws in the wake of the 2020 election.
Hewitt’s Senate Bill 221 would set up several layers of oversight of Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s effort to buy new voting machines. Under the measure, Ardoin would be required to use input from lawmakers to create a set of standards for new machines. It would also create a new commission to evaluate voting systems.
“It’s just making sure we have a very fair and open and transparent process as we go forward,” Hewitt said.
Ardoin raised some concerns that the bill limits his ability to make decisions on picking new voting machines, but he vowed to work with Senators on the legislation. Ardoin is a Republican but has clashed with lawmakers over the voting machine procurement.
After a failed bid to buy new machines in 2018, Ardoin embarked on a new effort in January to replace the state’s fleet of aging voting machines. Baseless allegations about one of the bidders, Dominion, coupled with protests from the two competitors, Election Systems & Software and Hart InterCivic, doomed the deal. Ardoin pulled out in March and said he’d work with lawmakers on the next procurement process.
A group of concerned citizens, some of whom drove hours to attend the committee, clamored for paper ballots and claimed that Louisiana’s machines, which don’t connect to the internet, are subject to hacking.
Several of them also chastised Dominion, the company that has become a bogeyman of sorts for some Trump supporters after his campaign put forth claims the company’s machines switched votes.
Lenar Whitney, Louisiana’s Republican National Committeewoman, was one of them. Whitney, who has put forth a string of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election in recent months, gave an impassioned speech calling for paper ballots and saying Hewitt’s bill doesn’t go far enough. She also suggested Dominion improperly recorded votes in Arizona, a claim belied by an audit done there.
“Without the secure paper ballots I really feel like the citizens of Louisiana are being denied their right to a free and fair election,” Whitney said.
Dominion has increasingly fought back against misinformation about their machines, filing lawsuits against Trump campaign officials. The firm has even taken to local conservative media outlets in Louisiana to remind people that Trump won the state by a large margin in 2020.
Ardoin has sought to avoid conflicts with Republican lawmakers and voters who have emerged as a vocal force in the talks about Louisiana’s voting machines. He was also at the center of a controversy in 2020 over the election processes the state would have during the pandemic. Ultimately, a judge stepped in to settle the partisan dispute, which led to expanded mail and early voting.
“I believe we already are in the top notch for the entire United States for how we perform our elections and we can and should get better,” Ardoin said. “I’m excited. This is our opportunity to lead the way for the entire country even more. If you will, integrity on steroids.”
While the wait for new machines drags on, Louisiana will continue to use the machines it currently buys and leases from Dominion.