It’s probably too much to call Kyle Ardoin’s parting plea to Louisiana voters a Brad Raffensperger moment. For one thing, nobody — certainly not a president who’d just been voted out of office but didn't want to go — leaned on Louisiana’s Republican secretary of state to “find” exactly enough votes to flip an election’s outcome, as Donald Trump famously did to Ardoin’s Georgia counterpart.
Yet even in a state that Trump won going away, Ardoin faced so much conspiracy-mongering and outright lying about the security of the vote that he felt he had to draw a line, as Raffensperger did during that fateful January 2021 phone call.
“I hope that Louisianans of all political persuasions will stand against the pervasive lies that have eroded trust in our elections by using conspiracies so far-fetched that they belong in a work of fiction,” Ardoin said last week. “The vast majority of Louisiana’s voters know that our elections are secure and accurate, and it is shameful and outright dangerous that a small minority of vocal individuals have chosen to denigrate the hard work of our election staff and spread unproven falsehoods.”
That Ardoin said all this only after announcing he would not run for reelection this fall, rather than in a campaign in which he expected to face fierce opposition from the Trump wing of the party, doesn’t make his message any less vital. In fact, as voters choose his successor, Ardoin’s warning should be front and center.
Ardoin inherited the office after working as first assistant to Tom Schedler, the former lawmaker who resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. Ardoin succeeded him and won a full term in 2019, and earned generally high marks for overseeing elections even as he came under growing criticism from the conspiracy theorists in his party.
Being a good election official and being a good Republican should not present conflicting demands, but to many in his party, they did. The pressure got to Ardoin at times, even causing him to break down in tears at one legislative hearing. The moments when he threw his tormenters a bone — inviting them to testify before the commission overseeing the selection of new voting machines, for example — were low points for him and for the state.
Same goes for a few decisions over substantive matters, like when Ardoin backtracked, under legislative pressure, on expanding mail balloting so that more people could vote safely during the height of the pandemic. Absentee voting, of course, is one of the main targets of Trump and his election-denying followers, even though Louisiana and other states have allowed at least some to participate this way for many years without major incident.
It should be repeated here, again, that despite investigation after investigation and lawsuit after lawsuit, no evidence of wide-scale fraud or other irregularities has surfaced — not in other states, and certainly not in Louisiana. Yet it still took courage to do what Ardoin ultimately did: call a lie a lie, and vouch for the integrity of our democratic processes.
It’s more than many politicians still in office have mustered. Contrast Ardoin’s strong words with the wiggling and misdirecting from most of our congressional delegation, for example. One more time, for posterity: Among Republicans representing Louisiana, only U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy voted to fully recognize the 2020 election results in all states. The rest — U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, Garret Graves, Mike Johnson, and Clay Higgins — all rejected results from at least one state, thus feeding the fiction that President Joe Biden’s victory was in question.
I think Ardoin’s right about something else in his statement: that it’s a vocal but small minority demanding Republican politicians stay in line. For all the table-thumping from Trump and his diehards, most people just don’t spend their days seething over his loss and refusing to believe every ounce of evidence that it was legit. If more level-headed, responsible officials would also speak out, maybe the fever would finally break.
I’m sure Raffensperger didn’t like being put in the position of having to stand up to Trump’s bullying any more than Ardoin enjoyed the lower-grade but constant demands from the former president's allies. Had he gotten such a call, though, I think — I sincerely hope — he would have done the right thing and defended the election's results.
That shouldn't even be a question in a democracy, from anyone tasked with running a state’s election process. Sadly, these days, it absolutely is.