Secretary of state asks to resume search for voting machine vendor

Louisiana’s top elections official is pushing to resume his voting machine replacement effort, telling the state’s chief procurement officer that the temporary hold on work to hire a contractor “needlessly upended” the process.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin lambasted the decision by Louisiana’s chief procurement officer Paula Tregre, whose office in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration oversees the bidding process. Tregre stopped the voting machine shopping work after one of the interested vendors, Texas-based Hart InterCivic, complained that the contractor solicitation was drawn too narrowly and could sideline it and other qualified voting technology firms.

The secretary of state’s office said Wednesday that suggestions from the company that the bid solicitation wasn’t being inclusive to vendors “is absurd.” Ardoin sent a letter to Tregre on Sunday saying she “injected confusion” into the replacement effort.

“By jumping the gun and declaring a stay of (request for proposals), we cannot even evaluate the concerns raised in Hart’s letter,” Ardoin wrote.

It wasn’t clear when the contractor search will resume.

Ardoin, a Republican, launched the search for a voting machine vendor on Jan. 27. Bids from companies interested in the contract were supposed to be due at the end of March. Louisiana’s contract is estimated to be worth up to $100 million. Ardoin wants to have the first new early voting machines in some parishes by spring 2022 elections.

This early disruption in Louisiana’s effort to shop for voting machines brought reminders of the secretary of state’s failed attempt in 2018 to replace 10,000 early voting and Election Day equipment, when allegations of improper bid handling derailed that effort.

A Friday legislative hearing scheduled to dig into the details of the vendor search has been postponed because of a week of the severe winter weather in Louisiana. Sen. Sharon Hewitt, the Republican who leads one of the election oversight committees, says she intends to reschedule the hearing. Read the full story.