Louisiana will be moving to elections using paper ballots under legislation finally approved about 90 minutes before the Legislature adjourned Thursday at 6 p.m.

Senate Bill 221, by state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, had been negotiated behind closed doors for about two weeks. Agreement came in the closing moments of the two-month-old legislative session.

The result merged much of the language from two similar House-passed bills with the Senate measure.

Current law requires Louisiana votes in machines. The legislation would now require a paper ballot that would be scanned to count.

Louisiana’s current fleet of voting machines are aging and replacement parts aren’t easy to find. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has been trying to nail down a deal for new machines.

Dominion Voting Systems Corp., an equipment and software company founded in Canada with headquarters in Denver, won the early phase of a bidding process that was successfully challenged as unfair by the losers. Work on a new bidding process is still ongoing.

After the presidential election in November, Dominion became the target of widespread and specious rumors of being involved in the unproven claims of widespread fraud in presidential election.

“The machines are outdated and it’s time to make change,” Hewitt said, adding that she had heard the worries of some voters voiced about voting machine vendors.

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Hewitt’s SB221 would set up commissions to review and make recommendations about the types of systems available as well as bids from vendors.

The Secretary of State would still make the final decision. But state law currently requires the Secretary of State to only purchase direct-recording electronic voting machines, the variety now being used.

Hewitt noted that electronic voting machines were the “cat’s meow, back in the day, 30 years ago.”

Technology has progressed and the latest thinking is that paper ballots, which can be scanned to count the votes, provides a tangible way to audit election voting.

The legislation merged House Bill 653, by Central Republican Rep. Barry Ivey and House Bill 704, by Denham Springs Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges, with Hewitt's bill. Both House bills had more detailed versions of how new voting machines should be chosen and used along with when paper ballots could augment the voting procedures.

Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, who handled the legislation in the House, tamped down some opposition by saying the structure set up in SB221 allows more participation by the public and ensures that the next voting machines the state purchases are more in line with what other state have bought.

The Senate approved the legislation at 4:25 p.m. and it passed the House 22 minutes later. The legislation now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards, for his signature.

 

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.