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Analysis: Louisiana governor, elections chief newly at odds

November 16, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards isn’t directly backing a candidate in the Louisiana secretary of state’s race, but the Democratic governor also isn’t hiding his disdain for the Republican running for the job.

Edwards has slammed interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, saying he’s grandstanding and misusing his position to advance his political campaign. The two offices have traded barbs over voting machines and voting rights in the last two months.

Both sets of disagreements started with Ardoin’s accusations against Edwards, and the governor has responded with his own blistering criticism.

Ardoin isn’t well-known around Louisiana. He’s only been in the interim job since May, taking over when his former boss resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. High-profile sparring with Edwards could help Ardoin rally interest and support from a GOP base he needs to show up at the polls for his Dec. 8 runoff election against Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup.

But Edwards’ response could give talking points to and boost some voters’ interest in Ardoin’s opponent.

Edwards’ official stance, spokesman Richard Carbo said last week, is he isn’t endorsing a candidate in the competition: “The governor does not plan to get involved in the race.”

Edwards may not be endorsing Collins-Greenup, but he’s shared thoughts about Ardoin.

In a letter to Ardoin released to the media, Edwards raised “very serious concerns” about the interim secretary of state’s “lack of knowledge regarding voting rights in the state.”

The stinging rebuke from the governor to Ardoin comes after Ardoin accused the Edwards administration of either negligence or favoritism in its handling of a voting rights issue.

WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge questioned how former New Roads Mayor Robert Myer, who entered a no-contest plea last year to malfeasance in office, could cast a ballot in this month’s primary election.

Louisiana currently doesn’t allow convicted felons on probation and parole to vote.

Ardoin fired off a letter to Edwards and released it to the TV station, saying Myer may have voted illegally. Ardoin blamed the Edwards administration — through its Department of Corrections — for failing to report the felony conviction so Myer could be barred from voting.

Ardoin suggested either the corrections department gave “preferential treatment” to Myer because his brother is a high-ranking official in the agency or the department handled its duties carelessly.

Edwards shot back with a letter that said Ardoin didn’t understand the law. The governor said Myer was eligible to vote. Myer completed the terms of his probation in July and also was sentenced under a legal provision in which he didn’t lose his right to vote as a result of the conviction, Edwards said.

“As the chief election officer of the state, that you would toss around something as sacred as an individual’s right to vote like a political football in your ongoing campaign for office is extremely troubling,” Edwards wrote.

Ardoin doubled-down with a statement saying his office should have been notified Myer was convicted of a felony and he’s asked the legislative auditor to look into the correction department’s policies for such reporting to the secretary of state’s office.

“The governor’s lengthy, sarcastic response is nothing more than an attempt to sidestep a potentially troubling issue and a failure to address any of our specific concerns,” Ardoin said.

That’s just the latest dust-up.

The burgeoning feud appeared to begin in October, tied to the secretary of state office’s work to replace Louisiana’s 10,000 voting machines. That’s when Louisiana’s chief state procurement officer found problems with the vendor selection, threw out the voting machine contract award and said the bid process would have to be redone.

The vendor initially chosen to do the work is appealing the decision. And Ardoin lashed out at Edwards, claiming the chief procurement officer — who is in the Edwards administration — sided with a losing bidder because the company’s lobbyist is an Edwards supporter.

Ardoin accused the governor’s administration of “old-school Louisiana politics” and Edwards of choosing “his political buddies over election security.”

The Edwards administration called Ardoin’s claims absurd, saying Ardoin was trying to turn a procedural issue into a political fight.

That political fight seems certain to extend at least through the Dec. 8 election.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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