Louisiana Knows One Thing About Its Next Voting Machines: They Will Produce Auditable Paper

As Louisiana looks to update its aging voting system, one element marked as essential by state leaders is that the new machines must be able to produce an auditable paper record, the Associated Press reported.

Louisiana convened a new commission Wednesday that will decide what technology will replace thousands of the state's old voting machines after previous efforts were unsuccessful.

The current machines, which are decades-old, cannot produce auditable paper records. Mostly Republican lawmakers imposed the new rules requiring the replacement machines to leave an auditable paper trail, AP reported.

The new Voting System Commission has 13 members ranging from lawmakers to election experts. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican and the chief elections official in the state, was chosen to chair the group.

The panel's first meeting on Wednesday focused on examining the current system used throughout Louisiana and the rules for election operations. The group has to recommend voting systems by January 31, clearing the way for Ardoin's office to start the public bidding process, according to AP.

The previous two attempts by the secretary of state's office to buy new voting machines failed after receiving complaints about bid solicitation.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Louisiana Voting Machines
As Louisiana looks to update its aging voting system, one element marked as essential by state leaders is that the new machines must be able to produce an auditable paper record. Above, voters stand behind curtains to cast their ballot at the Voting Machine Warehouse on November 7, 2006, in Orleans Parish, Louisiana. Sean Gardner/Getty Images

A bill sponsored by state Senate Republican leader Sharon Hewitt and approved by the majority-Republican Legislature created the commission and added new requirements for Louisiana's next voting system, with new layers of legislative oversight, technical analysis and public comment.

Hewitt said Wednesday that the panel will "give citizens, experts and legislators an equal voice" in helping to choose a "secure, paper-based voting system that gives voters the confidence" that their ballots are counted accurately.

The commission can only recommend a voting system that has a paper trail that can be audited. That could involve ballot-marking digital machines that print out a paper receipt, paper ballots that are scanned into a digital system or some other machine-based method that produces a paper record. Currently, the only paper trail that exists in Louisiana's elections involves absentee ballots.

Ardoin's office said the agency will have increased costs for paper and storage and will need lawmakers to consider creating a larger gap between primary and runoff elections to allow for the auditing.

The legislation also requires that Louisiana's next voting system can't connect to the internet, already the practice today in the secretary of state's office.

Louisiana didn't have any controversy with its recent elections, including the 2020 presidential election. Former President Donald Trump won Louisiana, and Ardoin has fiercely defended Louisiana's voting system as secure.

Still, efforts to replace the old voting machines have drawn concerns from some Republicans who repeated baseless allegations of widespread fraud in other states and who said they are worried a new Louisiana voting system could be subject to hacking.

Several people who testified before the commission Wednesday said they didn't want the state to get digital ballot-marking devices, suggesting those could be unsafe. They urged the state to buy hand-marked paper ballots that are then scanned. Some pushed the state to use more than one voting system vendor.

Ardoin shelved the last voting machine replacement attempt in March after facing widespread complaints from election technology firms, Hewitt and other Republicans about how the search was handled. A previous 2018 search and contract award was voided amid allegations of bid rigging.

While waiting to start a new voting system search, Ardoin's office continues to pay its current vendor Dominion Voting Systems for maintenance on the old Election Day machines and for leasing early voting machines.

Ardoin Chairs New Voting System Commission
Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin was chosen to chair a new commission to update the state's voting system. Above, Ardoin talks to reporters about his last-minute decision to run in the special election for secretary of state, in Baton Rouge on July 20, 2018. Melinda Deslatte/AP Photo