In perfect timing for the end of early voting, LSU President F. King Alexander welcomed students, faculty and professionals to the Holliday Forum for a forum featuring six of the candidates for Louisiana’s Secretary of State.
The forum, along with the many other panels and discussions conducted during President’s “Behind the Ballot “symposium, was organized to “encourage students to get out and vote.”
The candidates consisted of acting Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Gwen Collins- Greenup, Rep. A.G. Crowe, Rick Edmonds, Renee Fontenot Free and Julie Stokes. The candidates answered a variety of questions regarding topics such as election transparency, voter registration, social media influences on younger constituents and the business portal and the protection of the Louisiana archives. This gave attendees of the forum, especially those preparing to vote, an idea of what these candidates would prioritize if elected into office.
The forum was centered around encouraging University students to vote. This theme kicked off the discussion, as the beginning was focused on how these candidates, as overseers of state elections, would work to ensure that each citizen of Louisiana uses their right to vote to its fullest capacity. All candidates agreed that it is essential to the success of Louisiana that voter turnout is close to 100 percent.
Democrat candidates Gwen Collins-Greenup and Renee Fontenot Free agreed that increasing voter turnout in Louisiana begins with increasing civic engagement in high schools and youth organizations.
“I started saying in June that I will work with local school boards to enhance the civics program because of my experience in teaching," Free said. "You capture the audience while they are in high school. You get them engaged. You get them to understand that their vote counts and you have a generation that will vote for the rest of their lives."
Other candidates like Julie Stokes and Rick Edmonds argued that restoring the public’s faith and trust in the government will inspire more people to vote as they will feel more secure in their decision and in the importance of their voice.
“I believe that the apathy and the anger that we see in our electorate is a product of our people looking at us and thinking, ‘Who do we believe?’” Stokes said. “This leaves the citizens of this state either apathetic because no matter who they elect they can’t discern the truth from them or angry.”
Gwen Collins-Greenup even proposed new blockchain voting machines to increase voter confidence and promote transparency in the voting process.
“We are in need of new machines. We need machines that follow each vote with a paper trail," Collins-Greenup said. "That increases voter confidence because you can look at your vote and see how you passed it.”
All the candidates also agreed that social media and technology are key to engaging voters, especially younger voters. Each candidate spoke to how social media is used throughout their campaigns and practices to engage with the constituency.
Rep. A.G. Crowe emphasized how government officials need to utilize technology to engage younger voters.
Questioning panelist, Jessica Rosgaard, asked candidates for their thoughts on the 55,000 voters who lost their place on the registry in 2017 after failing to vote for two years and to verify their home address. Ardoin clarified that you are not unregistered because of inactivity but because of failure to confirm a residence. He defended this practice because it standardizes and organizes the system. Edmonds sees this standardization as a counter attack to voter fraud.
“I think one of the major responsibilities of the Secretary of State office is to protect against voter fraud,” Edmonds said. “We should punish people if they are involved at any level of destroying our country. We need to make certain everyone has the opportunity to vote. I believe that. We also have this opportunity to eliminate as much voter fraud as possible.”
One of the Louisiana’s Secretary of States’ primary duties is to preserve the state’s history through the protection of the archives. Candidates were asked how they plan to prioritize the archives during their administration. Ardoin acknowledges that the state currently does not give enough funding to the archives; it is fully self-funded right now.
Many of the candidates, such as Renee Fontenot Free, Gwen Collins- Greenup and Julie Stokes, supported the idea of digitalization of the archives and “modernizing.”
“This is one of the areas I have been specializing in as I have used the Louisiana State Archives before,” Collins- Greenup said. “Digitizing our records will be cost saving.”
Stokes and other candidates, such as Edmonds, suggested a partnership with university students to protect the archives in a cost-efficient manner.
To conclude the discussion each candidate remarked on why they were running for Louisiana’s Secretary of State. Though each candidate had diverse opinions on the topics, all are running for the same reason: the protection of Louisiana elections and the people who participate in them.