If you want to campaign on God, country and patriotism, the usual stuff, don’t run for secretary of state in Louisiana.
That’s a warning from Kyle Ardoin, the current holder of the job that includes overseeing state elections, among other duties.
“Voters should be asking the tough questions about running for this office,” Ardoin said Monday at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
They won’t be asking him directly, as he does not plan to run for election to the seat of Tom Schedler, who resigned in the wake of charges that he harassed an employee. Schedler denied the charges, but damaging emails and other evidence painted his relations with the woman in a very unfavorable light.
Ardoin was Schedler’s first assistant and will serve until a successor is elected in the fall.
That election, like a recent race for state treasurer, was caused by the incumbent's resignation. In 2016, former Treasurer John N. Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate, forcing a low-turnout fall special election last year. Turnout was in the low teens.
For Ardoin, that is one of the questions that ought to be asked by candidates: Should there be a $6 million special election every time a statewide officeholder resigns?
Under today’s Louisiana Constitution, it is required whether there is a regularly scheduled statewide election or not. For Ardoin’s job, the vote will be at the general election in November and December, when regularly scheduled races for Congress are on ballots.
But for the treasurer’s race, it was a hefty bill, and Ardoin wonders aloud whether the state would have been better off by allowing the first assistant treasurer to serve until the next statewide election. That would be only a few months and $6 million difference, but it would require a constitutional change. Will the next secretary of state support such a move?
Ardoin said the number of special elections has been trimmed by the Legislature and praised House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, for trying to schedule elections for legislative vacancies during regular election days. But clearly a real issue — not extraneous issues like abortion, or gun control, or prayer in schools — for candidates for secretary of state should be how to reduce the cost and number of elections.
Another is voting, especially with the secretary of state’s office grappling with the funding to replace Louisiana’s aging voting machines. Ardoin said a priority will be replacing touch-screen machines used for early voting, which is becoming increasingly popular.
But the total cost of overhauling the state’s voting machines and software will be $45 million or more, Ardoin said, and so far the office has managed to cobble together federal funding and savings in the office that, with some help from the current Legislature, could reach only $10 million.
There is more to the job, including managing prominent institutions like the State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport and the Old State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge.
But the issue of elections might be something for which candidates find a lot to talk about.
Other states may do things differently, Ardoin said, “but here in Louisiana our history of public corruption and voting irregularities from decades ago led us to value things like secret ballots, photo ID (at the polls) and secure voting machines.”
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.