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This Does Not Sound Good: Louisiana Bill Will Gut Legislative Oversight over Election Process

The Louisiana legislature is perilously close to crowning Secretary of State (SOS) Nancy Landry as the indisputable queen of elections in Louisiana. If Rep. Mike Johnson’s HB 856 wins final passage in the House, Landry will be vested with unprecedented and unchecked powers on election matters, including whether Louisiana’s anticipated new $100 million machine based voting system will be reliable and secure. This is a dangerous thing in a free republic whose survival as such depends upon the equal distribution of power among the branches of government and vigorous checks and balances. Excessive concentration of power in one person or agency is a recipe for corruption, poisonous to public policy, and fatal to liberty. What kind of election system we will have is no exception to this rule.

Johnson’s Bill in original form simply clarified that the SOS is “responsible for the maintenance and repair of new voting systems.” So innocuous, in fact, that few paid any attention to the Bill until it got to final vote on the Senate floor, where Republican Sen.

Mike Reese stuffed it with numerous amendments vesting Landry with unprecedented power. Specifically:

** The Bill in current form greatly diminishes legislative oversight over the SOS and her selection of our new voting system,
** Eliminates entirely the requirement of attorney general review and approval of any new voting system proposed by the SOS,
** Eliminates the express requirement that any proposed new voting system be examined and tested for security by independent forensic experts,
** Eliminates the requirement that a computer expert be on the final evaluation committee, dispenses with the requirement of public hearings during the selection process by eliminating the standard Administrative Procedure Act,
** And makes the choice of hand-marked, secure paper ballots for voting subject to “legislative appropriation.”

In other words, if the legislature doesn’t appropriate the money for a hand-marked system, Louisiana will have a purely machine based voting system by default. This appears to be precisely what the SOS wants.

The pending changes to Louisiana law contemplated by HB 856 are so devastating to public transparency and accountability that the author of the current law, former Senator Sharon Hewitt, has weighed in on it. “The third party testing is a huge issue”, Hewitt said. “The elimination of the APA (Administrative Procedure Act) is also a big issue. The APA process is routine for all agencies and gives the legislative committees oversight and requires public hearings. The SOS is eliminating this step.” Hewitt expresses other serious concerns about the amendments at @sharonhewitt, her X page.

Alex Haldeman, the world’s foremost election security expert who hacked into a Dominion voting machine during a recent federal trial in Georgia, testified several years ago before the Louisiana Voting System Commission (LVSC). Haldeman was crystal clear that all electronic voting systems are vulnerable to undetected manipulation and are attractive targets for sophisticated criminal hackers. (Haldeman recommends a secure, hand-marked paper ballot system except for any voter who is physically incapable of hand-marking a ballot.)

Under this stark reality, it is particularly unwise to eliminate from the selection process traditional legislative oversight, existing checks and balances, independent forensic testing by experts, and open public hearings before deciding upon something so consequential as a new voting system. It is our hope and our belief that the Senate body did not fully understand the implications of the Bill before voting on it and that the Louisiana House will reject HB 856 in its entirety, without compromise.

Louisiana citizens are watching.

J. Christopher Alexander, Louisiana Citizen Advocacy Group www.lacag.org

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