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Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin ditched his request for proposals to replace 10,000 aging electronic voting machines last week in the face of mounting protest about how his office was handling the request.

In January, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin asked the Office of State Procurement to issue a request for proposals, or RFP. The contract could be worth some $100 million. Since then, the state received complaints the RFP was drafted to favor Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver, Colorado voting machine vendor that became the target of national headlines alleging the company's machines switched votes from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden last November. The company has denied the allegations.

"I am in complete support of Secretary of State Ardoin’s decision to withdraw the current procurement process for new voting machines in Louisiana,” said state Senate President Page Cortez. “I believe this will bring an opportunity for full transparency on the purchasing process and election systems for all levels of government." 

In a Feb. 26 letter to the state, a law firm representing Election Systems & Software LLC, a Omaha, Nebraska voting machine vendor, protested Ardoin's RFP, suggesting only Dominion could meet the RFP's demands. Hart InterCivic, an Austin, Texas election equipment vendor, objected to the RFP on Feb. 12.

“This RFP seeks to replace the current system with a system virtually identical to the current system—a self-contained electronic voting system but adding only a specific type of paper backup,” stated the ES&S letter. “Dominion, the incumbent, is the only election system vendor that provides a product that fully meets all of the RFP criteria.

In a March 3 statement, Ardoin said he consulted Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder and Cortez and withdrew the RFP. The RFP to replace the 30-year-old voting machines was identified as #3000016411

"I believe Secretary of State Ardoin has made the right call to pull back on the procurement process for new voting machines,” Schexnayder said. “Louisiana elections are some of the most safe and secure elections in the United States and giving more oversight to the process will only strengthen that."

In spite of canceling the RFP, Ardoin defended the request as “compliant with all aspects of Louisiana's election and procurement laws.” Ardoin appeared to respond to specific complaints in the ES&S and Hart InterCivic letters about how the request for certain technology hampered the level of competition.

Ardoin took aim at the voting machine vendors in his statement.

“We cannot let election administration become just another political football for politicians or voting machine vendors to kick around, without any understanding or concern for the consequences,” Ardoin said. “Simply put, no other agency in Louisiana has a higher requirement for precision than the Secretary of State in conducting our elections. 

“Because of this, I am withdrawing the RFP to spend the next few months seeking to undo the damage to voter confidence done by those who willfully spread misinformation and disinformation. While we respect calls for more discussion of the process, it must be noted that Louisiana began preparing for this acquisition following the 2016 federal election cycle. It was never rushed or inconsistent with accepted budgetary or procurement laws. A glaring omission from the calls for more discussion is any credible criticism of our current election process.”

In late 2018, Ardoin awarded the same contract to replace aging voting machines to Dominion after it submitted a $95-million proposal, but the Office of State Procurement nixed the deal, according to media reports. One of Dominion’s competitors had complained the documents seeking proposals unfairly favored Dominion by requesting hardware specifications only Dominion could provide. Ardoin defended the selection of Dominion but deferred the matter until the RFP process could be rebooted, as it was on Jan. 27.

“The last attempt to acqure a new system was in 2018, but that RFP was thrown out when it was determined to be 'inherently defective,'” stated ES&S' Feb. 26 letter. “Additionally, the contract awarded to Dominion was rescinded, because Dominion submitted a voting system component that was not 'certified,' but was still selected despite being non-responsive.”

In light of the RFP's cancellation last week, it is unknown when the process would begin a third time.

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