Nearly 300 pages of email WWL-TV received about a public record request seem to suggest that Snafu’s planning was an honest mistake.
NEW ORLEANS – In mid-August, Louisiana election officials delayed scheduled maintenance of the state’s voter registration website from September 8-22. Apparently it was never noticed that the move was closing the site for hours on National Voter Registration Day and causing a political firestorm.
Nearly 300 pages of State Department emails that WWL-TV received upon request from public records appear to suggest that the planning of Snafu was an honest mistake by election officials facing the August 15 local elections, and a particularly challenging one Election season focused.
“The 2020 election cycle presented our state with unprecedented challenges, including a global pandemic and two hurricanes,” said Foreign Secretary spokesman Tyler Brey. “Despite a strained staff, the July and August elections were conducted without incident or error, and the presidential election is being conducted with the same level of excellence that Louisiana voters have expected.”
However, the Democrats expressed distrust of Republican Foreign Secretary Kyle Ardoin’s motives. The GOP legislature had put Ardoin under pressure this summer to make his emergency election plan more restrictive in November than in the primaries and local elections.
And the look of blocking access to the voter registration page from 8:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. National Voter Registration Day sparked national newsweek coverage and anger on social media from voters and Democratic politicians.
The Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, called it “irrevocable” on Facebook. Rep. Royce Duplessis tweeted: “This is an absolute shame!” One voter commented on the Foreign Minister’s online feedback form saying, “You people should be ashamed of yourselves.”
At 11:30 p.m. on September 22, when the site went back online, Election Commissioner Sherri Hadskey emailed Ardoin and other officials to alert them of the anger on social media.
“I will draw up a (computer system) update plan to help us prevent this from happening in the future,” she wrote. The next day, First Assistant Secretary of State, Nancy Landry, issued Policy No. 58, which established a new approval process for scheduled maintenance and website updates that must be carried out overnight if the website is not used very often.
Hadskey is a political officer but has been in the electoral division for 40 years, Brey said. On August 13th, she received an email from an IT representative informing her that the computer system needed an urgent update on September 8th. Hadskey said, however, that this would not work as that day her staff would program the November elections.
The IT rep responded on August 14, the day before the local elections, and rolled back the update for September 22 at 8 p.m.
Over the next few weeks, Hadskey and other electoral officials exchanged emails with community voters, Louisiana State University, and even a Facebook employee trying to find out how best to reach out to the public to mark National Voter Registration Day, the Voter Education Week and the state’s GeauxVote promote website.
The planned website maintenance was not mentioned in the emails until the evening of September 22nd.
Early the next morning, Ardoin showed his frustration and emailed this to three IT staff: “I thought you all might want to see what I’m about to deal with.”
A few hours later, Ardoin fell on the sword and emailed the lawmaker to apologize.
“This scheduled maintenance was required to ensure our continued cybersecurity and to prepare for the heavy traffic we expect by election day,” Ardoin wrote. “However, I take responsibility for making this happen on National Voter Registration Day.”
But the democratic legislature didn’t believe it. Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge wrote back, “I’m not buying this BS.”
Senator Katrina Jackson, D-Baton Rouge, later wrote that she called the Secretary of State’s office, “and just one mistake they say (.) (Shake head.) I can’t really handle them.”
The House and Government Affairs Committee emailed a request for maintenance details. James, a member of the committee, said Thursday they asked when maintenance was first scheduled and how often the tech work would be done, but never received that information.
When WWL-TV briefed James on what the emails showed, he said he felt a little better about Ardoin’s claim that it was not intended.
“It makes me feel a little better, but it’s still a big mistake to know that this is the same day as National Voter Registration Day and to be related to other things that I see as attempts to at least limit if not to suppress opportunities for voters to cast their votes, ”said James.
Pollster and election analyst Ron Faucheux said he has never seen so much suspicion and concern about the suppression of voters. And that’s why even the perception of dishonesty can trigger such a firestorm, he said.
“Election officials have to be very, very careful, what they do is not only honest, but appears honest, is honest and transparently honest,” said Faucheux.