Today, Orleans Parish held the biggest and most consequential municipal election in Louisiana since 2010. The entire New Orleans City Council (with the exception of Councilwoman Cantrell, who ran unopposed), the Mayor, the Sheriff, the Clerk of Criminal Court, and the Coroner were all on the ballot. Millions of dollars had been raised and spent. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s re-election campaign, in particular, was being closely watched by the national media.

There aren’t many people in the world who would be willing to spend a Saturday night obsessively refreshing the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website, but there are a few of us. If you’ve been at this as long as I have, then you know I am not exaggerating: On an election day, the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website is almost guaranteed to fail.

Shortly before the polls closed tonight in Orleans Parish, I made a bold prediction:

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 10.41.40 PM

Of course, this is obviously not the most pressing problem facing Louisiana, but until tonight, I had been willing to simply assume that the chronic failures of the website on election nights were a result of technical glitches and run-of-the-mill institutional incompetence. Now, I am not so certain.

The polls closed at 8PM tonight in Orleans Parish. At 8:16PM, WWL reported some breaking news:

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 11.38.19 PMGreg Rigamer called the New Orleans Mayor’s race more than 35 minutes before the Louisiana Secretary of State posted the results of early voting (which are usually uploaded within five minutes). Indeed, Rigamer and WWL (which, presumably, compensates him as their “election consultant”) were somehow able to call this election almost an hour before the Louisiana Secretary of State began posting precinct returns. Quoting from Greg Rigamer’s corporate biography:

Gregory C. Rigamer, Founder / Director

Greg Rigamer
Greg Rigamer

In 1979, Greg Rigamer used his professional expertise in the areas of urban planning and management consulting to establish GCR Inc. as a full-service professional consulting firm. Over the years, Mr. Rigamer has diligently guided the expansion of the firm to encompass such diverse areas as criminal justice reporting for courts and law enforcement agencies, election information systems for the broadcasting and reporting of election results, process and chemistry data management for nuclear power plants, financial management applications for government and private entities, and large scale facility inventory systems for institutional property owners. Following the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Rigamer led the transformation of many of the firm’s technical and analytical capabilities into a significant disaster recovery consulting practice.

Make no mistake: When a reputable local news station decides to call an election only sixteen minutes after polls close and before a single vote has even been posted, people pay attention. The rest of the media kept hitting the refresh button on a broken website, attempting to find results that Greg Rigamer and WWL had been privy to almost instantaneously. (Update: I should make it clear that I am not accusing WWL of doing anything improper; in fact, they should be commended for doing real, on-the-field grunt work).

But that’s not the real problem here: The real problem is that Greg Rigamer’s company, GCR, recently signed a $2 million contract with the Louisiana Secretary of State to plan, design, configure, and support its “Commercial Online Registration Application” (CORA) and its “Elections Registration and Information Network” (ERIN).

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 12.05.43 AMAccording to Greg Rigamer’s company website, it sure sounds like they’re responsible for managing a substantial portion of the Louisiana Secretary of State’s information technology systems. Quoting (bold mine):

ERIN has zero tolerance for error and 24/7/365 is required for availability and reliability.  It is used by 64 parish Registrars of Voters to maintain critical information on voters and provides functions for all election-related accounting activities including paying vendors and personnel who work for an election event. External interfaces within the system ensure up-to-date information; namely, the Louisiana Department of Corrections, Vital Records for Death verification, and the Office of Motor Vehicles/ Department of Public Safety (DPS).  For example, the system communicates with LADPS to query the driver’s license database and verify the identity of a person filling out an online form.   This project included GIS-based districting, Internet voter registration, and other enhancements.

I should make this abundantly clear: I don’t know what, precisely, Mr. Rigamer’s company provides the Louisiana Secretary of State, but I know what the Louisiana Secretary of State asked them to provide. And I know that Mr. Rigamer’s contract with the Louisiana Secretary of State represents only a portion of the work that he receives from taxpayers.

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 12.50.37 AM

Ironically and embarrassingly, despite the fact that Rigamer’s company’s $2 million contract also includes the design of its “Commercial Online Registration Application,” the Louisiana Secretary of State lists GCR as “Not in good standing.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 10.20.19 PMIn fairness, GCR’s annual report was due only two days ago, so it’s possible, if not plausible, that it’s still being processed. Regardless, though, it is troubling that Mr. Rigamer was the first to “call” the New Orleans Mayor’s race, and it’s troubling that Mr. Rigamer, apparently, may have had access to data well before anyone else (though I absolutely concede the possibility that he based his projection on his “gut instincts,” or, more likely, on exit polling and poll-watching; four days ago, I predicted Mitch Landrieu would receive 62.5% of the vote, and, as it turns out, my prediction was within 1.5 points. He ended up with 64%). Quoting from WWL:

Eyewitness News consultant Greg Rigamer called the race for Landrieu about 15 minutes after polls closed, based largely on returns from early voting.

There is real economic value for a media company- whether it’s print, cable, or online- to be the first to “call an election.” In an ideal world, our elections are open and transparent in real-time. Ideally, we should be able to base our assumptions, predictions, and projections on the same set of facts. Ideally, the state government should be able to post election results before a taxpayer-funded contractor markets his access and expertise to a media outlet. It is more than curious that Mr. Rigamer’s company helps run the information technology systems of an agency that has, repeatedly, failed at providing the public with real-time election results.

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 1.09.09 AMPerhaps unwittingly, Mr. Rigamer, in deciding to call the Mayor’s race in New Orleans well before votes had even been posted, forces all of us to confront some serious questions about the integrity of our electoral process: Who, exactly, owns and controls this data? Who is really responsible for the state’s information technology systems? How can we best ensure accountability and transparency? And most importantly, how can we guarantee that these systems are not susceptible to fraud, manipulation, and exploitive profiteering?

There is another reason to be concerned: In addition to the million of public dollars GCR receives through, presumably, the RFP process, which typically circumvents public bid law, GCR also was paid tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars developing a voter database on behalf David Vitter’s Political Action Committee, the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority (LCRM). Mr. Rigamer’s company is not only assisting the state, he’s also being paid for similar work by wealthy Republican lobbyists. Quoting (bold mine):

Presently, LCRM is spending about $20,000 per month with the New Orleans-based GCR and Associates for ‘computer database services.” Earlier this year, it also dropped an additional $90,000 for software development. It’s worth noting the GCR holds several contracts with the state and is at least a minor player on the recovery circuit. But the database system the company is developing may change the way Republicans win elections for some time. Diez admits that’s where all the money has been going, and its impact on the race shouldn’t be underestimated.

Then, of course, there’s this (bold mine):

The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board would develop and implement these programs with $30 million in BP funds.

The state hired Gregory C. Rigamer & Associates to provide strategic planning for a $15 million marketing campaign. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries received $12.4 million for administrative fees and support with the final $2.6 million going to campaign-related expenses.

As of June 30, nearly $17 million of those funds have been spent with the majority, $11.7 million going towards advertising and market research.

The audit looked at all spending through June 30 and discovered a number of significant transgressions including Rigamer & Associates increasing job budgets without approval, resulting in increased expenses.

The Food Group, a subcontractor hired by Rigamer & Associates, was approved for a $93,000 job but incurred expenses totaling $174,213. Rigamer then increased the maximum allocation for this job to $193,000 from $100,000 without obtaining the required approval from Ewell Smith, former executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

The Food Group was also approved for an $88,000 job but accrued expenses totaling $129,706. Rigamer increased the maximum allocation to $130,000 from $42,000 without approval, the report said.

Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne’s office terminated Rigamer’s contract effective Nov. 2.

Somehow, Rigamer and company have managed to keep multiple hands in multiple cookie jars.

This may be even more shocking to some: Not only is Mr. Rigamer’s company being paid by taxpayers to build an election database, they are also selling their services to candidates. Quoting from The Gambit (bold mine):

Lee and campaign consultant Gregory Rigamer, who is advising Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s campaign, agree that most early voters are “chronic voters” who tend to vote in every election.

I don’t fault Mr. Rigamer, at all, for being an entrepreneur. His resume is wildly impressive. But it is also terrifying, or, to borrow an old adage, it seems to be 1000 feet wide and one foot deep: He’s a campaign consultant who moonlights as a demographer, all while running a marketing company that dabbles in the development of highly-sophisticated information technology systems. Occasionally, he works in aviation and nuclear energy. Tonight, for the purposes of WWL’s election coverage, his title was “Election Consultant.”

Don’t get me wrong: In many ways, he is a hero to me, a real Renaissance man, Louisiana’s Most Favored Consultant (MFC), but all have a right to know the results of our elections at the same time he does.

21 thoughts

  1. As I understand it, this is the process:

    1. Election precinct workers close the polls and the “in-charge” is responsible for securing the voting machines, removing the cartridges which contain the election data, and transporting those to the parish election commissioner’s office. They also bring along the election rolls with the signatures of voters, etc.

    2. At that office, the elections commissioners load those cartridges into some other machine and the results are downloaded into that machine. Following that (perhaps as part of the same process, or at some point later initiated by the elections office, those results are uploaded to the secretary of state’s database.

    3. I believe there is a second information module stored on the machine itself, which is used to verify the numbers on the transmitted data on verification day (usually Tuesday after the election), but I may be wrong on that.

    So at any point prior to the results being uploaded to the SOS office, that data is only in each individual voting machine cartridge. One reason results are slow to come in on election nights is that requirement that the cartridges be physically transported to the elections commission office, rather than, say, plugging a phone line into the machines to transmit them via some built-in modem.

    Ergo – my guess is that the election was called not because actual voting data was released early to some (or made available early to some), but because WWL, like most news gathering organizations, sends people out to the polls to conduct exit polls and surveys and had a good feel for the results. The details may vary, but if 2 out of 3 people leaving the polls across the city say they voted for Landrieu, it would not be hard to call the election shortly after closing.

    I’m as conspiracy-minded as anyone, but with even my limited knowledge of the voting machines (via a commissioner-in-charge who is a close friend), I don’t think this is a valid concern here.

    1. I think the most important part of this piece is the underlying annotation that the same guy getting paid taxpayer money to develop voter databases and registration systems, is the the same guy getting paid private dollars for access to this information. I think it is extremely naive to assume a savvy businessman like Rigamer is not peddling sensitive voter information to highest bidder. This is Louisiana. I’m almost certain that election have been compromised in the past, and this guy’s access if proof that there is an opening for them to be compromised in the future.

  2. If Greg Rigamer- whose company has a $2M IT contract with the agency whose website continually crashes on election nights- based his projection on exit polls and a “good feel,” then they should make that immediately clear and release those exit polls as soon as possible.

    1. And while, of course, you’re absolutely right about how these cartridges must be physically transported, early voting should have been uploaded immediately. (I know sometimes early voting gets leaked, but this was epic). It took the Louisiana Secretary of State nearly an hour to post results that they’d been sitting on for days. It took over an hour before the first precincts were posted and more than two more hours until they posted everything else.

      I am not being conspiratorial, Kevin. It’s all public record. If anyone involved here was attempting to cover up a “conspiracy,” they did an awful job. It is what it is. I’d be happy to learn that WWL and Rigamer based their projections on exit polls and instincts, though that seems incredibly risky for them. It’d be even better if Mr. Rigamer explained why these systems and databases seem to fail on election days. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation.

  3. What, exactly, is the “real economic value” for a media outlet to be “first” to call an election? Does ad-space on their medium magically increase? Conversely, when they are wrong (or are “last to report” does ad-space cheapen?)

    Oh, I understand that media-types get their panties in a bunch over “who was first”, but the Average Joe rarely notices and “who’s first” doesn’t influence their chosen new source.

  4. I have closely followed every election for the past 15 years as part of my job. I am in constant contact with the SOS computer system on a minute by minute basis on ever election night. I can’t say that the sec. of state system had any problems at all last night for the New Orleans election. I certainly did not crash like it has so many other times. The problem appears to be with New Orleans, as it is for every other election. The poll commisitoners (many of them in the ninth ward) seem to take some joy out of withholding the results. It became evident last night that the New Orleans clerks office also participates in delaying (possibly manipulating) the numbers.
    You are correct, the early vote numbers usually do show on the SOS website at 8pm and last night they didn’t. I find it likely that the New Orleans Clerks office had those numbers but did not transmit them to Baton Rouge in a timely manner.

    On your point about Rigamer and Assosiates relationship with WWL TV, I have to agree completly. That is something that I have for years thought was a bit wrong. As for calling the election at 8pm, WWL and all of the other media outlets do send people out to the polling places to gather votes. When the polls close at 8pm, the machines print out a list of their votes and that printout is posted for all to see. The poll commistioners have to do this, it is the law. Historically WWL has been able to feild a larger number of people to go out to the polls on electioni night, so they have had the advantage in gathering early votes. No surprise then that they were able to call the election before the other stations. You would have to go back to old data (no longer available online) to see if in past elections the early votes for Orleans Parish were witheld from the SOS systems at 8pm.

    While it is good to look into GRAs work with the SOS and with WWL, I think that the bigger issue is who in New Orleans is deliberatly holding back the votes (mostly from the 9th ward) and for what reason. Is the delay in reporting the vote a hold over from the past when waiting for certain parts of the city to be counted was used to manipulate the outcome of elections by changing votes?

    All in all, I am gratified to see that someone other than myself has been seeing this go on. Thank you for bringing it to others attention.

    1. Lamar, I don’t know if you’re aware of the practice that Louis details above, but it’s what I came here to post as well. WWL had the results first because they sent a large number of people into the field to get them. I know this for a fact because I do the same thing — albeit only at one precinct each time. I was at the large Mater Dolorosa polling place in Carrollton, copied down data for all five candidates in District A from five precincts after they were posted, shortly after 8, and then tweeted: “Blowout numbers for guidry in Carrollton so far” at 8:24 p.m.

      And, in fact, WWL had someone there posted to do the same thing — and they were the only other news outlet there. (We are reporting partners with WWL, as most people know, but we did not coordinate election coverage last night — our focus was on the District A race, while they had the whole city to attend to.) Strategic placement of enough people at key “swing” precincts with a focus on getting that result in early, and as Louis says: “No surprise then that they were able to call the election before the other stations.” In fact, I actually think it’s admirable that a TV news outlet puts so much manpower into election coverage.

      You are obviously entitled to your own opinions and conclusions, and I applaud you for being “willing to spend a Saturday night obsessively refreshing the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website” — but I think the omission of this information from your post and the resulting innuendo does a disservice to your readers.

      1. Robert, thanks for clarifying. I’ve made some edits to the original piece that I hope will help.

        Yes, I am aware of the practice of poll-watching and exit polling, so I need to make this abundantly clear: It sounds like WWL did a great job and that they built their projections based on their own, on-the-field observations and data. I am sincerely appreciative that you and others have pointed this out.

        My basic point is that the Louisiana Secretary of State’s technological ineptitude should be cause for concern, particularly because the election was actually called by a man whose company has a $2 million contract with LA SoS for technology services. We live in an age of instant and rapid communication; the LA SoS, on election nights, doesn’t post “official results;” they upload raw data. I am not faulting WWL or anyone else for doing the real grunt work; they should be commended. I’m just posing some questions.

      1. Good point. Also, to be clear, WWL didn’t say Rigamer’s call was based on exit polling or analysis from poll watchers; it said it was based on early voting returns– returns that were finally posted to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website nearly a full hour after polls had officially closed.

        1. The wwl tweed did not say that it was “based on early voting returns”… just that their election consultant had called the race… that is a way of distancing themselves from a wrong answer. “our counsultant said that, he was wrong”…
          But, we are loosing the point… you assert that it is the ineptitude of the SOS and their web site… when they did not have any issues on election night. THe New Orleans Clerk of court is who you should be looking into as to why they did not provide the early data to the SOS…. Of course we can’t rule out the GRA does their computer work to!

          1. “Eyewitness News consultant Greg Rigamer called the race for Landrieu about 15 minutes after polls closed, based largely on returns from early voting.” .. well that is very different than the tweet you posted earlier… Look.. I am not disaggreing with you .. there are poblems with vote totals getting to the SOS computers from Orleans parish.. i just don’t think that we know enough about the actual process to place blame on the SOS or on the N.O. clerk… I just point out that Orleans Parish has forever been late in having their numbers reported on the statewide website… and I would like nothing more that to get to the bottom of the problem and to fix it… but, having closely watched the election process for many many years now.. I can only conclude that the problem is with Orleans Parish and not with the state.

          2. And absolutely the LA SoS’s website had issues: They should have been able to post early voting immediately after the polls closed; I don’t think this had anything to do with the New Orleans Clerk of Court refusing to turn over those numbers, but even if it did- as you point out- they share the same IT consultant.

          3. “I can only conclude that the problem is with Orleans Parish and not with the state.” I completely disagree, and with all due respect to you, I’ve linked to reports in this post that back me up. I don’t doubt, for a minute, that Orleans Parish is also plagued by problems, but let’s not pretend like the Louisiana Secretary of State is somehow blameless here. Why are folks acting like the Internet doesn’t work in New Orleans?

  5. I guess we are saying the same thing in different ways.. .. You say the SOS web site failed to deliver the results.. and that is true.. but how could they deliver data that they did not have??? either way.. the SOS failed to deliver. The “system” failed to give the data to the people.. the question remains ‘where did the failure to transmit the data happen?’

    1. If WWL’s “election consultant” had the early vote immediately after (maybe even before) the polls closed, then the Louisiana Secretary of State’s consultant should have as well. Right?

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