- Associated Press - Friday, August 10, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The expected cost of replacing Louisiana’s voting machines has jumped tens of millions of dollars higher than previously estimated. And the state hasn’t identified a way to pay for much of it.

The winning bidder for the work, Dominion Voting Systems, projected the replacement of about 10,000 early voting and Election Day machines, with software and equipment, will cost between $90 million and $95 million, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Prior estimates used to talk about the project included a much lower price tag, between $40 million and $60 million.

The secretary of state’s office said Dominion was the low bidder for the contract out of three competitors. Office spokeswoman Meg Casper Sunstrom said the increased cost reflects enhanced cybersecurity protections and the addition of a paper record of votes, which has been talked about nationally as an extra voter security protection.

She noted the original replacement cost estimates were developed five years ago. Since then, concerns about cybersecurity threats have heightened and hacking worries have consumed election discussions.

“We said all along there really wasn’t a way to accurately estimate what the costs of the machines were going to be” until we got the bids, Sunstrom said.

The secretary of state’s office has about $10 million banked so far for the replacement project, a mix of state and federal financing. Lawmakers haven’t identified where they’ll come up with any remaining dollars needed for the voting machines.

The replacement project is planned be rolled out in phases, completed by 2020, so the financing will be needed over multiple years. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said the money already in hand will get Louisiana started in at least five parishes as early as this spring.

“We will immediately begin discussion with the legislature and others about how important this investment is for election security,” Ardoin said in a statement. “As cybersecurity threats become more advanced, voters are demanding safer, securer voting technology in our state and we are prepared to deliver.”

Louisiana last purchased voting equipment in 2005. The secretary of state’s office wants to replace existing bulky machines with smaller, touch-screen-style equipment, improved technology and a paper trail.

Negotiations were set to begin with Dominion Voting Systems for the work, after Thursday’s announcement that the Colorado-based company was the winning vendor.

The two losing bidders can protest the lucrative contract award, however. A protest seems likely because one of the companies, Election Systems and Software, raised allegations of impropriety during the contractor selection process.

Election Systems and Software accused the secretary of state’s office of issuing voting machine standards only Dominion could meet. Ardoin said release of those standards was a mistake, and he withdrew them. A second disputed set of voting standards that Election Systems and Software complained was released too late also was withdrawn.

A new evaluation committee was formed to review contract proposals after those voting standards were scrapped, and Ardoin said the final selection process was fair and equitable.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte


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