Winner Of Louisiana Voting Machine Contract Was Low Bidder


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The up to $95 million price tag estimated by the company chosen for Louisiana's lucrative voting machine replacement contract may have caused a bit of sticker shock, but the projection remains tens of millions of dollars cheaper than plans pitched by the two losing bidders.

Financial proposals by vendors who weren't chosen ranged from $115 million to nearly $160 million for the work, according to bid evaluation documents obtained by The Associated Press.

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Still, the cost projections submitted by the low-bidder that won the award, Dominion Voting Systems, remains at least $50 million or more higher than the money set aside for the work.

Final terms — and a final price tag — for the contract remain to be negotiated.

"My goal would be to try to get the price down," Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state's top elections official, said Monday.

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Louisiana last purchased voting equipment in 2005. The secretary of state's office wants to replace outdated voting machines with smaller devices, improved technology and a paper record of votes, which has been talked about nationally as offering extra security.

Three companies competed for the voting machine work: Dominion, Hart InterCivic and Election Systems and Software. Each offered multiple options, including proposals for the state to buy or lease the machines that will replace about 10,000 early voting and Election Day machines.

The proposals included costs for software, maintenance, warranties and other add-ons.

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Financial documents show Colorado-based Dominion was the low-bidder for both the lease and purchase options, estimating a contract to lease the machines would cost around $89 million and to buy the machines would top $95 million.

Hart Intercivic's bid estimated the state would pay between $115 million and $121 million for its work. Election Systems and Software's proposals ranged from $125 million to nearly $160 million.

Ardoin said he hasn't decided whether he'll buy or lease new machines from Dominion.

The secretary of state's office has about $10 million banked so far for the multiyear replacement project, a mix of state and federal financing. Lawmakers haven't identified where they will come up with any remaining dollars needed.

Under Dominion's purchase proposal, the voting machines would cost about $68 million, with another $27 million in maintenance costs paid annually over a nine-year period. Ardoin said his office has money built into its annual budget for machine maintenance, so the state likely would only have to come up with the equipment money.

Terms of any lease arrangement, such as how payments could be spread out, would be subject to negotiation.

Negotiations with Dominion haven't started in part because the losing bidders have through Thursday to decide if they'll protest the contract award.

A protest seems likely because Election Systems and Software raised allegations the secretary of state's office mishandled parts of the selection work and attempted to manipulate the outcome for the winning bidder. Ardoin said voting machine standards that prompted the allegations were withdrawn and the selection process was fair.

Candidates running on the November ballot against Ardoin, a Republican who has been secretary of state since his former boss resigned in May, want to delay the voting machine contract until after the election.

Republican candidate A.G. Crowe asked the attorney general and legislative auditor to review the selection process amid the allegations of impropriety. Attorney General Jeff Landry's office replied in a letter Monday, saying it doesn't have jurisdiction to investigate the matter.

– by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter

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