Conspiracy Drama Complicates Decision on Voting Machines

Louisiana's equipment is outdated, but Trump supporters push for paper ballots
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 13, 2022 1:35 PM CDT
Replacing Voting Machines Becomes Quagmire in Louisiana
VotingWorks displays a precinct scanner with a voter-facing screen that collapses into a tamper-evident ballot box on wheels last month in Baton Rouge, La.   (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton, File)

The need for Louisiana to replace its voting machines is not in dispute. They are badly outdated—deployed in 2006—and do not produce paper ballots critical to ensuring election results are accurate. What to do about them is another story, the AP reports. The drama includes allegations of bid-rigging, voting machine companies claiming favoritism, and a secretary of state noncommittal about having a new system in place for the 2024 presidential election. Election clerks worry about the influence of conspiracy theorists who have peddled unfounded claims about voting equipment and have been welcomed into the debate over new machines. "It would be a travesty to let a minority of people who have little to no experience in election administration tear down an exceptional process that was painstakingly built over many, many years," one parish clerk said. "And for us to throw it out of the window because of unfounded theories is mind-boggling."

The uncertainty is playing out against a backdrop of attacks on the integrity of elections, fueled by former President Donald Trump's unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. Some of his supporters are trying to persuade election officials across the country to ditch machines in favor of paper ballots and hand-counts. Their influence so far has been limited primarily to GOP-dominated rural counties. But in Louisiana, a heavily Republican state that Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points, they have managed to insert themselves into the process of choosing a new voting system. Louisiana officials have been trying for at least four years to replace their outdated touchscreen voting machines. Although some counties in four other states still use the machines, Louisiana is the only one where they are in place statewide—some 10,000 in all.

The machines record votes electronically, without a paper record of each voter's selections. That means if a result is in dispute, there are no individual paper ballots to review. Under a new state law, the next voting system must have a paper trail of ballots cast so election results can be properly audited. "If someone were to allege the voting machines had been hacked, there would be no conclusive evidence to rebut that,” said Mark Lindeman of Verified Voting, which tracks the use of voting equipment. "It leaves election officials to prove a negative." While election clerks agree that the machines are antiquated and that there is a need for a paper record, the equipment does not appear to have caused major problems in recent years. In 2018, the federal government urged states to replace voting systems without a paper trail to increase security and public confidence.

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Louisiana began the process, but a contract for a new system was voided after allegations of bid-rigging. In 2021, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin shelved another attempt after voting machine companies claimed favoritism for the current vendor, Dominion Voting Systems. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell recently addressed a state commission to advocate for dropping machines. Multiple clerks spoke against that. "Don't mistake not wanting to go back to a pen-and-paper as not wanting to have an auditable vote trail," said David Ditch of Iberia Parish. The commission recommended the use of either hand-marked or machine-marked ballots or a combination, and for the state to keep electronic tabulators for counting ballots. Commissioners, including Adroin, voted for machine-scanned tallies—not hand-counts. The next move is Ardoin's. His office said he's reviewing recommendations; the Republican estimated two years before a new system could be in place.

(More voting machines stories.)

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