Jim Beam column: Elections major session issue

Published 6:54 am Saturday, June 8, 2024

Louisiana’s election system is one of the most secure in the country, but you wouldn’t believe that if you saw all of the election bills that passed during the recent legislative session. Unfortunately, one measure that would have sped up the purchase of new voting machines didn’t make it.

LaPolitics Weekly listed 11 new election laws that were in Republican Secretary of State Nancy Landry’s legislative package. Landry defends the 11 bills, saying they will help improve election credibility.

Perhaps some of them will do that, but most are election bills that have been backed by Donald Trump supporters in other Republican-dominated states who believe this country’s elections can’t be trusted.

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Landry told the Louisiana Radio Network that Louisiana is ranked in the top ten for election integrity by the Heritage Foundation and No. 1 in the South by the Electoral Integrity Project. She said the new laws would help the state get to No. 1 in the nation, but those election-deniers aren’t helping her cause

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, tried to help Landry with House Bill 856, and they definitely killed that effort. The Illuminator reported that Johnson’s proposal would have repealed parts of a 2021 law that added multiple layers of bureaucracy on the process of buying new voting machines.

The Illuminator said, “Under renewed pressure from far-right election deniers, the Louisiana Legislature abandoned its attempt to repeal a 2021 law that has made the task of buying voting machines overly burdensome.”

The news agency said Johnson’s bill died just one step shy of final passage during the closing days of the current session. The most significant parts of the bill were created through a late-stage amendment adopted on the Senate floor that was sponsored by Sen. Mike Reese, R-Leesville.

Members of a Senate committee on May 8 asked Landry, the secretary of state, for an update on the purchase of new voting machines. She said it is her No. 1 priority but the 2021 law had turned the acquisition into a “long and drawn out process.”

Joel Watson, Landry’s spokesperson, said the process Landry was talking about involves multiple layers of bureaucratic red tape that will delay the purchase of new voting machines an additional two years. The Illuminator said if Johnson’s amended bill had passed and become law, the state could have acquired new voting machines in about three years as opposed to five.

Watson said the current machines are almost 35 years old and have become difficult and costly to repair because parts are no longer made for the machines. They also don’t have a paper trail.

“We just didn’t want to have to go through a massive two-year-extra process … The system we have now is far too old to go through a process that would add two additional years,” Watson said.

The Illuminator said the law that Johnson’s bill was changing was passed “under pressure from a small group of Donald Trump supporters who came to the state Capitol several times during the 2021 legislative session and bogged down public hearings with far-fetched conspiracy theories on the 2020 presidential election.

Many of the baseless arguments were about Dominion Voting Systems, a voting machine vendor that many Trump supporters falsely accused of rigging the election, the Illuminator said. Dominion won a nearly $800 million defamation lawsuit settlement against Fox News, which spread some of the conspiracy theories.

When former Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin was in office, he was forced to cancel open bidding for new voting machines because the Trump supporters said the bid language was too favorable to Dominion.

Chris Alexander with the right-wing Louisiana Citizens Advocacy Group accused Secretary Landry of using Johnson’s bill in an attempt to accumulate enormous power and dismantle government checks and balances.

“This thing is a train wreck and we have every reason to believe that this was done by design — not by accident,” Alexander said on a podcast last week.

Rep. Johnson obviously doesn’t agree that anything shady was going on here when he said he intends to work on this issue again next year.

We wish him luck, but those election-deniers aren’t going to give up their distrust of the country’s election system anytime soon.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than six decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jim.beam.press@gmail.com.