Louisiana Elections Chief Pushes Back On Contract Protest


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin defended the selection of a vendor to replace Louisiana's years-old voting machines, saying Friday that the evaluation process was done "with a view to ensuring fairness to all participants."

Ardoin filed his formal response to a protest of the lucrative contract award that a losing bidder lodged with the state's procurement office. The Republican secretary of state said his office "at all times acted in the best interests of the state to secure the best, most cost-effective voting technology for the citizens."

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Dominion Voting Systems was the winning vendor. But contract negotiations with Dominion to replace 10,000 early voting and Election Day machines are stalled while the protest filed by Election Systems and Software is under review.

Raising a long list of complaints, Election Systems and Software said the process used to choose Dominion was bungled by Ardoin, his office and the team that evaluated the bids. The vendor wants a redo of the selection work.

Ardoin took over as secretary of state in May when his former boss resigned and is running for election to the position. The bid process started before Ardoin was in charge and continued after he moved into the top job.

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In his three-page letter, Ardoin said his office "has conducted all stages of this procurement process in an open, transparent manner, according to the rules set forth by the Office of State Procurement."

The secretary of state's office wants to replace voting machines bought in 2005 with smaller devices, improved technology and a paper record of votes. Three companies competed. Hart InterCivic didn't file a formal protest, but sent a letter supporting the protest from Election Systems and Software.

During the bid process, Election Systems and Software accused the secretary of state's office of trying to rig the outcome by issuing voting machine standards only Dominion could meet. Ardoin said the standards shouldn't have been posted and weren't used to evaluate bidders. The Office of State Procurement responded with a directive removing Ardoin from the evaluation process. In its protest, Election Systems and Software alleged he didn't fully comply.

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Ardoin pushed back against that suggestion, saying his only involvement after the new evaluation committee formed was "the ministerial duty of signing off on and forwarding the committee's recommendation."

Dominion has until Wednesday to file its response to the protest. Ahead of that filing, the company released a statement, saying "there are no substantive grounds for this protest and its attack on the integrity of Louisiana state officials involved in the bid process."

Ardoin's office described Dominion as the low bidder for the voting machine replacement, with the company estimating the work would cost between $89 million and $95 million. Bid evaluation and financial documents released by the Office of State Procurement showed Dominion with the least-expensive proposals.

Hart and Election Systems and Software said they offered cheaper proposals that don't appear in the scoring documents.

Lawyers and other experts are examining the protest claims. Any decision by the procurement office leader on whether to uphold or overturn the contract award can be appealed.

– by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter

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