Voting was the subject of the day on February 9, 2022 at the weekly meeting of the Winnfield Rotary Club. Rotarian of the day, Bryan Kelley, Winn Parish Registrar of Voters, both presided over the meeting and spoke to the club about Winnfield’s redistricting based on the census of 2020 and the plan for a new voting system for the state.
Mr. Kelley provided a map of Winnfield showing the parameters of the new districts for city council members.
Kelley also spoke about the statute recently enacted into law after the 2020 presidential election, which involved numerous allegations of voter fraud, setting up a Voting System Commission, Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1362.1. The preceding statute, La. R.S. 18:1362 provides for the method of procuring voting systems or system components, parts and supplies, and of contracting for maintenance of voting machines.
The newly enacted statute creates the Voting System Commission to consider and analyze various voting systems available in the marketplace, evaluate the systems to determine which is most advantageous to the state, and recommend one type to the secretary of state, who is responsible for holding elections in Louisiana, to be procured to replace the voting system in use as necessary. The secretary will then solicit
competitive bids on that type of system before awarding the procurement contract.
The statute says the purpose of the commission is to “further the preservation of democracy by strengthening the state’s commitment to maintaining the faith, integrity, and trust in election, voting and ballot-counting processes, to provide the highest level of election security and functionality, and to provide greater clarity, public transparency, and objectivity with respect to the selection of voting equipment.” The commission consists of thirteen persons, five of whom hold offices intimately involved in the elections process and eight others who have had no involvement in it, including four just plain registered voters (one which represents the disabled community), two appointed by the governor and two appointed by the attorney general.
The commission may consider only voting systems with a voter verified paper record to replace the state’s current inventory of direct recording equipment, which records votes digitally and does not have a printed form which would allow a voter to verify that his vote has been accurately recorded by the voting machine. After gathering information about voting systems from the secretary of state and any other source any information it considers necessary to assist in making its recommendation regarding voting systems, the commission is to make its recommendation to the secretary of state.
The commission has already held four meetings, at which testimony was received about how the current election system works, various types of voting systems which comply with the statute, and all of these proceedings are archived on the legislative website and available to the public. Anyone with an interest in the hearings may go to Legis.la.gov, select broadcast archives, then select senate archives, and scroll down the list to Voting System Commission. The commission must complete its work by March 22, and then submit a report of its findings and its recommendation.
“Louisiana is unique among the states in that it has a uniform election system,”says Mr. Kelley. The system was created from the top down, that is, the head of elections, the secretary of state, implemented a system in Louisiana resulting in all precincts having the same type of voting machines all over the state. In other states, individual municipalities and/or counties selected their own systems and the state system has to collect voter and ballot information from many different types of systems.
Fourteen (14) states require paper ballots, and in some those paper ballots are still hand-counted. Seventeen (17) states and the District of Columbia have voting machines which produce voter verifiable paper records. Some election systems have printers which print out a paper record which the individual voter can read to verify the vote is correctly recorded. Some machines print the ballot and it is scanned on another machine to record it for computer counting. Six (6) states require the voting system to have a permanent paper record, but the purpose of preserving the paper is for audit rather than for voter verification. Seventeen (17) states have no requirement for a paper record of votes, but nine (9) preserve a paper record even though it is not required.
Louisiana’s current system is a Direct Recording Election System, in which the voting machines digitally record the votes cast and then print out total votes for each election after voting is complete. Some DRE Systems just store the votes cast on a cartridge on the voting machine’s hard drive and can’t print out the results. The machine’s cartridge is read to determine the number of votes in each election. Some systems are ballot-marking devices on which the voter makes an electronic selection, and the machine produces a paper, readable ballot.
Mr. Kelley said some voting systems are a combination of electronic and paper ballot, so they have touchscreen selection by the voter and the machine prints out the selection. The printout is placed in an optical scanner for reading and counting, and the paper is then stored in a locked box.
Once the recommendation of the commission is made, the secretary of state will then draft a request for proposal to go out requesting companies with voting systems which comply with the recommendation to submit bids to the state to supply the replacement voting machines. The voting system vendor will then be selected, a test site will be selected to test the new system and if the test period is successful, the new
system will be implemented throughout the state.
The process of selecting a new election system has begun in accordance with the statute, but the implementation of a new voting system will take time. We will eventually have a new system which will hopefully increase public faith and trust in Louisiana’s voting process.