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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy

Secretary of state hopefuls tackle election integrity, voting systems in candidate forum

Secretary of State candidates participate in an online forum hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council on Sept. 21, 2023.
Molly Ryan
Secretary of State candidates participate in an online forum hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council on Sept. 21, 2023.

With less than a month to go before Louisianans head to the polls for the primary election, a slate of candidates running to be Louisiana’s next secretary of state shared their platforms in an online forum Thursday.

The candidates who participated include Democrats Gwen Collins-Greenup and Arthur Morrell and Republicans Nancy Landry, Mike Francis and Brandon Trosclair.

During the forum — which was hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council, a nonpartisan public policy and research group — candidates discussed a variety of issues, including what type of voting system they would implement and whether they thought President Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election.

For Trosclair, a grocery store owner and political newcomer, the answer to the latter was “a resounding no.” He has often repeated unproven claims of voter fraud, and he was the only candidate who does not believe Biden won the 2020 election.

“We saw massive irregularities all over the country, especially in swing states, where they changed the rules in the middle of the night and the week of the election,” he said, though such claims have repeatedly been proven false and dismissed in courts and investigations across the country.

Trosclair was also the only candidate who said he favors implementing a new voting system in Louisiana that would rely exclusively on hand-marked and hand-counted paper ballots.

The state Legislature passed a law in 2021 that bans the voting machines currently used in the state, and requires Louisiana to implement a new system, with a paper trail. It would be up to the next secretary of state to choose and implement the new system. Most of the other candidates said they support a new system that would include some combination of digital technology and a paper trail.

Nancy Landry, a former state representative and the current first assistant secretary of state, advocated for a voting system that employs technology and keeps a paper trail that can be audited.

“We have good elections,” she said. “We can do better by having an updated system that's fully auditable, and that's what I'd like to see.”

Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup agreed with Landry that the best voting system would combine technology with a paper trail.

“As an accountant and an attorney, I am aware of the need to have that paper backup in case there is a need for an audit,” she said, adding that the state doesn’t have the infrastructure to support a system that depends on hand-counted paper ballots.

New Orleans politician Arthur Morrell wants Louisiana’s next voting system to be as similar as possible to the current system. Morrell, a former state representative, served 16 years as a clerk of court in New Orleans. He said he has never run into or heard about serious problems with the current voting system.

“I'm not so hot on replacing these machines unless we can get something that's as good or better,” Morrell said. “I'm not for a paper ballot. They’ve had too many problems in other states with the paper ballot.”

Morrell added that the state’s current machines are nearly impossible to hack and said he wouldn’t want to frivolously spend money on a completely new and different system, because the system in place works well. According to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Louisiana ranks seventh in the nation in election integrity.

Public service commissioner Mike Francis pitched himself as a strong, business-oriented leader. Francis said he supports electronic voting machines and emphasized the importance of listening to all officials involved in the election process to come up with the best solution.

“We need to have a technical conference and let all these ideas be hashed out,” he said, adding that he’s a “bottom-up leader.”

The candidates also shared their positions on extending Louisiana’s early voting period and their opinions on the Secretary of State’s role in overseeing business filings and registrations, as well as certain state museums.

In addition to the five candidates who participated in the conversation Thursday, three others will be on the ballot in the October primary. Republican Clay Schexnayder, Louisiana’s current Speaker of the House, is also in the running but did not attend the forum. Republican candidate Thomas Kennedy and candidate Amanda Jennings, who does not have a listed party, will also appear on voters’ ballots this fall but did not participate in the forum.

The primary election will be held on Saturday, Oct. 14. The top two candidates in the primaries will face off in the general election on Nov. 18, unless a single candidate garners more than 50% of the primary vote.

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.