Louisiana Secretary of State To Evaluate Policy of Contractors Participating In Election Night Media Coverage

During the last 24 hours, as a result of my recent post, “Chronic Failures of Louisiana Secretary of State’s Website Raise Serious Questions About the Integrity of Elections,” I’ve taken a crash course in how elections are reported in Orleans Parish. I am not entirely satisfied with what I’ve learned, but I should give credit where credit is due: I am impressed by the response I received from the Secretary of State’s office.

If you missed the original post, here’s some background: Shortly after polls closed in Orleans Parish on Saturday, WWL-TV’s “election consultant” Greg Rigamer called the New Orleans Mayor’s race for the incumbent, Mitch Landrieu. According to WWL, Mr. Rigamer was basing his projection on his analysis of early voting. For election watchers, like myself, that seemed strange; early voting numbers hadn’t even been posted. Rigamer made his call at 8:16PM; the Secretary of State’s website didn’t post a single vote until 8:46PM. But, frankly, that, in and of itself, wasn’t the real cause of concern or suspicion. The problem was: Mr. Rigamer’s company has a $2 million contract with the Louisiana Secretary of State, a contract that includes, among other things, the development of the Elections Registration and Information Network (or “ERIN”). ERIN is the system the Secretary of State uses to publish election results.

I wasn’t peddling a conspiracy theory. Given the facts and the sequence of events, I think it was more than fair to ask questions about the integrity of the process and about Mr. Rigamer’s role and his access.

But, knowing what I know now, it wasn’t very fair of me (or for my friends at The Gambit) to suggest that the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office was somehow responsible for the delays in reporting or that their website had crashed on Saturday night. Their website didn’t crash; it just sat on idle.

Earlier tonight, I spoke with Meg Casper, the Press Secretary for Secretary of State Tom Schedler. According to Ms. Casper, their office was also extremely frustrated by the delays in reporting election results on Saturday night, but these delays were, ultimately, not within their control. The issue, as I now understand, is that early votes are counted by the Orleans Parish Board of Supervisors of Elections at the Registar’s Office. The Board begins counting votes around 2:30PM on election day, and if you are inclined to watch them count votes, you’re more than welcome to show up as long as you turn off your cell phone and agree to be sequestered until the polls close at 8PM.

However, the Clerk of Court- not the Registrar- is actually responsible for providing election results to the Secretary of State’s offices via an encrypted network. In most parishes, the Registrar’s Office is directly down the hall from the Clerk of Court’s Office, which means, for all intents and purposes, that when the polls close on election night, the early votes are uploaded almost immediately. In Orleans Parish, however, the Registrar’s offices are located at City Hall, on Perdido Street, and the Clerk of Court’s offices are on Tulane.

Here’s what apparently happened on Saturday night: Someone had the smart and obvious idea to show up and watch the Board of Supervisors of Elections count the early and absentee ballots. When the clock struck 8PM and the polls officially closed, this observer was able to transmit these results to Mr. Rigamer, who then, ostensibly, plugged them into his model and made the projection. When WWL and Mr. Rigamer made the call at 8:16PM, it’s more than likely that neither the Clerk of Court nor the Secretary of State had even seen the results; at 8:16PM, the “cartridges” containing early voting numbers were probably sitting in the passenger seat of a car on Poydras.

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That said, as the map above indicates, the drive between City Hall and the Clerk of Court should take, at most, seven minutes. Considering it took more than 45 minutes for the results to get posted, it’s obvious that someone at the Registrar’s Office was taking their sweet time. That’s inexcusable, particularly in an election as consequential as the one held on Saturday.

It is also completely avoidable: According to Ms. Casper, there is nothing that would have or should have prevented the Orleans Parish Board of Supervisors of Elections from counting early and absentee ballots in the Clerk of Court’s offices. As I have come to appreciate, these delays have been an ongoing source of frustration for the Secretary of State, because the public and the media rely on their website, almost entirely, for real-time election results. If their website sits idle for nearly an hour on election night, people notice.

Again, it was unfair for me to imply that the Secretary of State’s website was the underlying problem here. Truth be told, as I said to Ms. Casper, Louisiana’s Secretary of State has one of the most robust websites of its kind in the entire country. They’ve spent a ton of money resolving the problems they previously experienced, and I, for one, have noticed.

But it’d also be unfair for me to sweep all of this under the rug and pretend as if I was wrong for raising some serious questions about the integrity of our electoral process and the providence and security of the Elections Registration and Information Network, which has been described as “keys to the castle.” There’s still a glaring problem here: The contractor who helped build ERIN for the Secretary of State is also calling elections as a paid media consultant.

As I said from the beginning, I don’t know what, exactly, Mr. Rigamer’s company has provided for the Louisiana Secretary of State, but I know what they’ve asked them to provide. And I know that, for $2 million, his company has likely done a substantial amount of work. I also know that the Louisiana Secretary of State is taking all of this very seriously. Ms. Casper told me, in no uncertain terms, that their office will evaluate and clarify their policy on contractors participating in election day media coverage. They seemed keenly aware of the ways in which their contractor’s dual roles created the perception of a conflict.

If I were a gambling man, I would bet that Saturday was the last time Mr. Rigamer appears as a media consultant on election night.