Louisiana Secretary of State candidates debate 2020 election denial, voting machines
A virtual candidate forum held Thursday for those vying to become Louisiana’s next top election official was mostly tranquil apart from a few fictional claims on the part of one of the candidates.
The forum, held via video conference by the Public Affairs Research Council, included three Republicans — Mike Francis, Nancy Landry and Brandon Trosclair — and two Democrats — Gwen Collins-Greenup and Arthur Morrell. Republican Clay Schexnayder, the current Louisiana House speaker, did not take part.
Moderators posed questions on some of the biggest issues surrounding elections in Louisiana and nationwide.
Out the gate, each candidate was asked whether they believe President Joe Biden won the 2020 election against Donald Trump. Everyone except for Trosclair said Biden was the legitimate winner. Trosclair, an Ascension Parish grocer, is a known election denier who often repeats fabricated claims of voter fraud.
Landry, the first assistant secretary of state and second-in-command to Secretary Kyle Ardoin, tried straddling both sides of the issue. She acknowledged Biden won the election but said there were “some very troubling allegations” of voting irregularities in swing states.
Neither she nor Trosclair offered any specifics with regard to their allegations.
The debate also focused on Louisiana’s voting machines. Ardoin has twice tried to purchase new systems for the state to replace its outdated machines. His last attempt in 2021 stalled after conspiracy theorists launched a pressure campaign to eliminate the current vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, from the competition.
Since then, the Louisiana Legislature approved a law that requires the state to use electronic voting machines that produce some kind of paper trail. Examples would be hybrid systems, such as a machine-marked paper ballot system or hand-marked paper ballots with machine scanners.
Most of the candidates agreed the state needs to purchase new systems.
Landry said Louisiana’s current machines are accurate and secure but need to be replaced with updated ones.
Morrell, who for 16 years was New Orleans’ top election official, said the current systems work fine and don’t need to be replaced.
“There [already] is a paper backup,” Morrell said. “It’s called a polling roll that a person signs when they go and vote.”
Morrell acknowledged the new state law might require the purchase of new systems and said he would be “all for” any technology that’s as good as the current system.
Trosclair said he doesn’t trust machines and wants to move the state toward a full paper ballot system with vote counting by hand. Despite the sluggishness of such systems and the potential for errors, such as Florida’s “hanging chads” in the 2000 presidential election, Trosclair claimed he would be able to deliver accurate election results within minutes of the precincts closing.
When pressed for details, Trosclair said voters can visit his website to find out. On his site, letsgeauxbrandon.net, a link to “Brandon Explains Hand Counting” leads to a nonworking Facebook page.
Collins-Greenup, a lawyer and accountant, said she is aware of the need for a new system with a paper backup element. The secretary of state’s office doesn’t have the infrastructure or personnel to support hand counting or an all-paper ballot system, she said.
Francis, who currently sits on the state Public Service Commission, said he would stick with an electronic system but would rely on local clerks and registrars to suggest the best one. He criticized the efforts of Ardoin and Landry in assembling a task force that suggested the hybrid systems, saying they failed to reach out to the local clerks and registrars for their input.
Local election officials who testified before the task force raised concerns about the storage of new equipment and paper, noting many use facilities without climate control.
Landry delivered the most barbed quip of the night aimed at Trosclair, who claimed the right-leaning Heritage Foundation gave Louisiana an “F” for the accuracy of its voter rolls and several other election integrity categories. The Heritage Foundation actually ranked Louisiana seventh highest in the nation for election integrity, according to its website.
Landry said Trosclair is referring to one small category, verification of citizenship, in the rankings worth only 4 points out of a ranking system that totals 100. Louisiana received 2 out of 4 points, while it scored 22 out of 30 for voter roll accuracy. The scorecard doesn’t issue letter grades.
“If that’s the way that he counts, I don’t think you want him counting our votes,” Landry said.
The primary election will be held Oct. 14. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will face off in a general election on Nov. 18.