Kyle Ardoin, the bureaucratic caretaker who initially wasn’t going to run for the office, was elected Saturday night as Louisiana’s Secretary of State.
Ardoin, a Republican from Baton Rouge, easily defeated his Democratic Party challenger, Gwen Collins-Greenup, of Clinton, according to complete but unofficial results.
Only 17 percent of the state’s 2.99 million registered voters participated in Saturday’s election. Ardoin led Collins-Greenup in 54 of the state’s 64 parishes.
Ardoin took the stage to thank his supporters. He said as secretary of state, he would continue to expand on the work already being done well by the office and his staff. He didn’t take any questions other than to say that he hadn’t heard yet from Collins-Greenup.
But the executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, Stephen Handwerk, congratulated Collins-Greenup for waging an “extremely difficult” fight against an incumbent who controls the levers of the elections process.
The challenger fared well in cities, carrying Orleans Parish by a better than 4-to-1 margin; winning Caddo Parish, where Shreveport was selecting a mayor; and finishing just behind Ardoin in East Baton Rouge Parish, which had two major taxes on the ballot. Of the 10 other parishes she won, all but one had fewer than 5,000 voters take part in the runoff. Collins-Greenup won her home parish, East Feliciana, by only 22 votes of 3,680 cast.
Ardoin easily won in Lafayette Parish and in the New Orleans suburbs of Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes as well as the Baton Rouge suburban parishes of Ascension and Livingston.
As the third-highest ranked state executive, the secretary of state holds Louisiana’s official seal, registers new businesses, archives government papers and runs a few museums in addition to overseeing the state’s elections.
Ardoin had been appointed in May to replace his boss Tom Schedler, who resigned after being accused of sexually harassing an employee. Saturday’s contest was a special election to designate someone to complete the final year of Schedler’s four-year term.
The post will be on next year’s statewide ballot, along with the governor, other statewide agency heads and all 144 members of the Louisiana Legislature.
Ardoin had been Schedler’s top assistant, in charge of the office’s day-to-day administration, and had promised legislators he would not run for the office. Legislators were angered at the allegations of sexual harassment and wanted answers to how it could have happened. Ardoin’s pledge to serve only temporarily helped sidetrack legislative ardor to investigate the office.
A former lobbyist for health care interests, Ardoin lost a race for the state Legislature in 2007, his only previous foray into elective politics.
As the door literally closed on official qualifying in July, Ardoin announced he was the last person to sign up to run for the office. None of the other eight candidates had enough experience, in his estimation, to handle the administrative issues facing the secretary of state in 2019.
Now that the election is over, first up for Ardoin is to restart the bidding process to replace all 10,000 of the state’s voting machines and train personnel how to use them before October’s primary.
Come March, he will have to institute the procedures to register several thousand convicted felons who have served their sentences and are being allowed to vote again under a new law passed by the Legislature this year.
Additionally, federal authorities are tightening processes after allegations of widespread hacking in some states’ computerized voter registration rolls and claims of foreign interference in American elections.
He ran as a virtual incumbent under the banner “Keep Kyle” and committed several unforced errors in the eyes of opponents. He obtained vanity license plates for his vehicle identifying him as the secretary of state. The competition for voting machines was sidetracked by claims that criteria were changed to benefit one of the three bidders.
He was the first secretary of state to write on official stationery to shut-ins who receive ballots by mail and vote at high rates, but have their identity protected from other candidates. He publicly but incorrectly insinuated that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration improperly allowed a convict to vote without first checking the law that showed the voter had not lost his right.
His Republican opponents were slow to endorse his candidacy in the runoff.
Collins-Greenup said she was studying for the bar exam — she had graduated Southern University School of Law in May — when she decided to drive to Baton Rouge, pay the $900 qualifying fee and put her name on the ballot minutes before Ardoin did.
Because she had raised less than $2,000 for the November primary, Collins-Greenup was not invited to many candidate forums. But she barnstormed the state, speaking at events, often organized by African-American churches, and walking the streets to shake hands with prospective voters.
The Louisiana Democratic Party and organized labor threw their support behind the other Democrat in the race, Renée Fontenot Free, a former first assistant under two previous secretaries of state.
Collins-Greenup surprised the political establishment by attracting nearly as many votes as Ardoin to win a spot in the runoff. But the primary was run along with midterm congressional elections that were seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump and attracted more than half of the state’s registered voters.
She would have been the first African-American to win statewide office since Reconstruction. But Louisiana is a solid red state with Edwards being the only Democrat currently holding statewide elective office.
Heavy rain and only a few localities holding elections combined to suppress turnout on Saturday.
Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.