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Q&A: Sec. of State Nancy Landry praises tighter voting laws ahead of November election

Sec. of State Nancy Landry reads through election-related laws passed by the legislatures during the most recent session.
Courtesy of the Secretary of State's office.
Sec. of State Nancy Landry reads through election-related laws passed by the legislatures during the most recent session.

Louisiana elections will see some major changes ahead of the November presidential election under a slate of bills passed by Republican lawmakers.

The laws include a statewide ban on ranked-choice voting, new procedures for updating the state’s voter rolls, tighter rules around absentee ballots and the creation of a new Division of Election Integrity within the Department of State. Critics, including state Democrats, say the changes will make it harder for some residents to vote.

A driving force behind the proposals is Nancy Landry, Louisiana’s secretary of state. Landry, a Republican who took office earlier this year, says that Louisiana elections are secure and accurate.

Still, she supported the proposals throughout this past session as part of what she’s called her “election integrity package.”

To learn more about the changes, Karen Henderson, host, spoke with Sec. Landry on Louisiana Considered. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 


Karen Henderson: I'd like to get into some of the biggest changes this year. But first, why the need for all these new election rules?

Nancy Landry: Well in Louisiana, we have great elections. So I want to say that right off the bat, we are ranked in the top 10 in the nation by the Heritage Foundation [a conservative think tank], and we were ranked number one in the South by the Electoral Integrity Project. But during the campaign, I promised that I would try to make us number one in election integrity in the nation. I always think there's room for improvement. And so we had a package of bills to improve election integrity in Louisiana and tweak a few things.

Henderson: One of the proposals you support is creating a new ‘Election Integrity Division’ in your office. What is that and what are some examples of what they will do? 

Landry: We have six officers now with our agency in what we call the Elections Compliance Unit, and they investigate allegations of fraud and any complaints that come into our office and they turn them over to the district attorney and the local municipalities and local parishes for prosecution if those allegations are validated. But we want to rebrand it and let the public know that this is an election integrity unit and that's what they're doing. They are investigating allegations of fraud and keeping our elections safe and secure, and we wanted to give the public that extra confidence in our elections. We also plan to do a little bit of reorganizing with the division and possibly a little expansion of it in the future. And so we wanted to rename it the division of election integrity.

Henderson: Now, absentee ballots got a lot of attention this session. Can you first remind us what an absentee ballot is and who might get to use it?

Landry: Sure. So we allow them for I think 13 different reasons in Louisiana. And generally someone's out of town or they're elderly or they are disabled. They can get a ballot mailed to their residence and vote and mail it back in or deliver it to their registrar of voters. We had several bills that would tighten up some of the laws around ballot harvesting in Louisiana. [Editor’s note: Ballot harvesting is a practice where individuals or groups conduct coordinated efforts to collect absentee voters’ ballots and drop them off at polling sites or mailboxes. This practice, also known as ballot collecting, is legal in some states and has been effective at increasing voter participation. But it has also generated controversy and concern about election fraud.]

Landry: We've long prohibited ballot harvesting. We have some of the best anti-ballot-harvesting laws in the nation and we're very proud of that. But we did find that there were a few loopholes to those laws. So we had a couple of bills to close up some of those loopholes. For example, Representative Josh Carlson's bill, HB 476. That closed the loophole. Right now, only a family member can deliver more than one absentee ballot for another person and take that to the registrar voter's office.

And we found that people were bypassing that law and violating the spirit of that law by collecting multiple ballots from people they're not related to and then stuffing them in a post office box or a blue box at the post office. And so that was violating the spirit of that law and we felt like that violates best practices for chain of custody of a ballot. We strongly believe that a ballot should go from the voter to an election administrator or to a postal employee and should never be put in the hands of a stranger. You just don't know what will happen to your ballot when you turn it over to someone who's not related to you. And it just opens the door to fraudulent activity.

Henderson: I think about those that don't have an immediate family member that can aid them though won't this make it harder for people that have disabilities or elderly people to vote?

Landry: It still allows you to deliver one if you're not a family member. This just prohibits some of the loopholes. So we've already had a current law that prohibits more than one person from witnessing a ballot if they're not a family member and more than one person from delivering a ballot if they're not a family member. Those are current laws. These bills just tightened them up a little bit and closed some loopholes.

It's never been easier to vote in Louisiana, and we don't think that these were burdensome. You can still have a neighbor do yours or whoever was doing it before, as long as they just do one.

Henderson: I know some Democrats have called this new absentee ballot bill ‘voter suppression.’ Will these changes make it harder though for people to vote?

Landry: It's never been easier to vote in Louisiana than now. These changes are common sense measures that improve election integrity and give people more confidence in our already stellar elections. They just close some loopholes and ensure that continued integrity of our elections.

Henderson: Another major bill creates a new procedure for maintaining voter roles. It specifies conditions for purging people from the voter registration list. Can you help us understand what's changing there?

Landry: We have a tool that we use every year to keep our voter rolls clean. It's called our annual canvas. And we had requested three years in a row now for additional tools to verify even more of the voters on our voter rolls, those who haven't voted in 10 or more years. And so that bill, it was House Bill 114 by Les Farnum. It passed three years in a row and three years in a row it was vetoed by the governor. So it passed again this time, the fourth time. And we feel confident that the new governor will sign it into law. And what it does is it allows us to send a card to those voters who've not had contact with our office in 10 or more years, or they haven't signed a petition in 10 or more years. And we just send 'em a card and ask them, are you still wanting to stay registered? Are you still at this address?

And if they don't respond, then they'll be moved to the inactive list. We're not purging anybody. We are moving them to an inactive list. And they would remain on the inactive list for two complete federal election cycles. And when you're on the inactive list, you can still vote. So if they show up to vote, they'll still be allowed to vote. But after two federal election cycles, they can be canceled if they still haven't had any activity. So that would be a total of around 14 years at least of no activity before they would be removed.

Henderson: Now will we see these changes in the run-up to this fall’s presidential election?

Landry: I believe that bill takes effect in 2025. So it will start next year. We've identified around 160,000 people who fall into the category of not having voted in 10 or more years. And so we think it'll make our voter rolls much more accurate and cleaner. And that's something that everybody wants.

Henderson: One effort that didn't make it through the legislature was an attempt to repeal a law that many say has made the task of buying new voting machines burdensome. You said that buying new voting machines for Louisiana is one of your top priorities. I believe most voting machines are over 30 years old. Where's the state at with that effort to replace these machines?

Landry: So acquiring a new voting system is one of my main priorities, and we are in the process of doing that. We've started creating state standards, which is a new requirement. We've always created state standards, but I think we did it voluntarily and now it's required by a law the legislature passed in 2021. We have to make the standards in a rulemaking process. And so it's taken us a lot longer than we anticipated, and we're in the process of doing that right now. Once we finish creating the state standards, then we will start the request for proposal process and we'll draft the RFP. And once it's completed, we turn it over to the Division of Administration and they issue it. And then the bids will come in from the vendors. And we have a new committee called the Voting System Proposal Evaluation Committee that will grade the bids and make a recommendation.

And part of that process is also demonstrations of the equipment. And then once the award is made, it has to be approved by the legislature. And then an award is made. And then of course, we always anticipate litigation after a large award is made.

So it'll be several years before we will see a new system. And then once we have a contract for a new system, we have to phase that in and we have to have time to educate our voters and educate our election workers and our registrars and our clerks of court. So it's a long process. And this bill that was passed in 2021, we now have analyzed it and have determined that it has added around two years to an already long process.

Henderson: Goodness, quite a lengthy process. Are you concerned about our ability to conduct an election with the equipment we have here in the meantime?

Landry: Our equipment is, like you said, some of the machines we have are nearly 35 years old. They are no longer making parts for them. And so as they break, we are having a problem finding parts for them and having to cannibalize other machines to keep the ones that are still working, working. And so it is a concern and we are going to have to address some of these additional steps that the legislature required of us in 2021. We don't think that we will be able to keep our machines in working order for that long.

Henderson: I want to talk about voter trust in election systems. There are loud voices in the Republican party, especially, that have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the way U.S. elections are run. What do you say to those voices in your party?

Landry: I can only speak to the way elections are run here in Louisiana that are under my purview. And like I said, in Louisiana, we have safe, fair and accurate elections and voters can vote with confidence here in Louisiana. It's not just me saying that. We've had third parties also confirm that we have fair and accurate elections here.

Henderson: What do you say to those that are not sure? 

Landry: It's not just the equipment, it's the processes that we have involved, the procedures that we have, the people and the physical security surrounding the equipment that all work together to keep our elections safe and secure in Louisiana. So Louisiana voters can vote with confidence and know that our elections are safe, secure, and accurate. And it's not because of our equipment, it's because of the policies and procedures and physical security and the personnel that we have. We never let anyone touch our machines except our trained technicians who work with our agency. We program them ourselves and they're never connected to the internet.

Henderson: Let's wrap up with some information on how Louisiana residents can make sure that they're registered to vote.

Landry: They can go to geauxvote.com and check their registration there. And they can also change their registration there if they'd like to or register. It's easy.

Henderson: Louisiana Secretary of State, Nancy Landry, thank you for your time today.

Landry: Thank you, Karen.