Democrat Wins Louisiana Sheriff Election by Just 1 Vote with 43,000+ Ballots Cast

Candidates for Caddo Sheriff John Nickelson, left, and Henry Whitehorn Sr. speak during a
Jill Pickett/The Advocate via AP

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — In the northwest corner of Louisiana, a candidate for parish sheriff demanded a recount Wednesday after losing by a single vote in an election where more than 43,000 people cast ballots.

The tight race shines a spotlight on Louisiana’s recount process and its outdated voting machines, which do not produce an auditable paper trail that experts say is critical to ensuring election results are accurate. States’ recount abilities have proven to be exceedingly important, especially following the 2020 presidential election when multiple battleground states conducted recounts and reviews to confirm President Joe Biden’s victory.

“This extraordinarily narrow margin … absolutely requires a hand recount to protect the integrity of our democratic process, and to ensure we respect the will of the people,” John Nickelson, the Republican candidate who trailed by one vote in last week’s election for Caddo Parish Sheriff, posted on social media Wednesday.

Henry Whitehorn, the Democrat who won the sheriff runoff, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Caddo Clerk of Court Mike Spence said he has seen close races during his 46-years of experience, but none with such a sizeable number of voters. Spence said he hopes this will teach residents that every vote matters.

When the recount takes place Monday only absentee ballots will be tallied again and checked for errors. But they only account for about 17% of the total vote in the runoff race. Absentee ballots are mailed in and are the only auditable paper trail under Louisiana’s current voting system.

When it comes to the in-person votes, which are paperless, a recount would be similar to hitting a refresh button.

“(Election officials) test the machines beforehand and they test the machines afterwards, so it’s not blind faith going into this. … There are protections in place,” David Becker, a former attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division who works with election officials through the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research said. “That said, a recount of a paperless vote is essentially the equivalent of hitting the button again. … You’re basically getting a report on the tabulation again.”

Louisiana uses paperless touch screen voting machines bought in 2005. Once the most modern voting technology, today Louisiana is the only place where they are still used statewide.

Election officials, including Louisiana’s Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, have reiterated that the state’s elections are secure and there are checks and balances in place to ensure election integrity. Additionally, the state has received high marks for its election procedures, including from the legislative auditor in March.

However, the machines and their lack of a paper trail, have been a frequent target of criticism.

The ability to recount ballots proved important in the 2020 election when many battleground states — including Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — conducted recounts or thorough reviews of the election results.

Nearby in Georgia, election officials recertified the state’s presidential election results after a recount of the roughly 5 million ballots cast was requested by Donald Trump. Georgia, which for two decades had used paperless voting machines similar to Louisiana’s, purchased a new system shortly before the election. The current system, used by virtually every in-person voter in Georgia, prints a paper ballot with a human-readable summary and a QR code, a type of barcode, that is read by a scanner to count the votes.

“Can you imagine what would have happened in Georgia if they had still had digital voting machines in 2020?” Becker asked.

While Louisiana is seen as a reliably red state and not perceived as a swing state in presidential races, election officials across the board have agreed that it is past time for new machines.

“It is important to be able to show your work and it is important, for people’s confidence in the system, to know that there’s a check against the system,” Becker said.

Louisiana has tried to replace the current machines for the past five years. But the ongoing process was delayed after allegations that the bidding process was rigged.

Secretary of State-elect Nancy Landry, a Republican who takes office in January, said implementing a new voting system is a top priority. However, given the extensive bidding process and trainings, she said new machines will not be in place ahead of the 2024 presidential election.


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