By MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Candidates vying to be Louisiana's secretary of state have talked about voting security, #MeToo issues and controversies over new voting machines. But the race to be the state's top elections official is defined more by difficulties raising the money to reach voters.

David McNew, Getty Images

Most contenders on Tuesday's ballot have limited dollars for outreach and advertising in a race attracting little interest from donors, despite being the only statewide seat up for grabs this year. Several major candidates have poured their own money into campaign efforts to try to stay viable. Many have focused on personal contact at local events and forums and smaller expenses like direct mail or digital advertising, rather than broad TV-based campaigns.

The seat is open because Republican Tom Schedler resigned in May in a sexual harassment scandal. Whoever wins will fill the final year of his term and run for re-election in 2019.

With nine contenders, the only thing that seems certain is no one will win the secretary of state's job in the primary. A December runoff between the top two vote-getters is expected to decide the winner. Polling shows large numbers of undecided voters.

REPUBLICANS

GOP candidates include Kyle Ardoin of Baton Rouge, Schedler's chief aide who is working as interim secretary of state; Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud; former state Sen. A.G. Crowe of Pearl River; state Rep. Rick Edmonds of Baton Rouge; and state Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner.

Though he's only been in the top job for five months, Ardoin is running as an incumbent, saying he has the experience to keep the office on track during an important upcoming election year and won't require "on-the-job training."

Cloud describes her success in a voter fraud lawsuit as giving her a unique perspective to focus on voting integrity. Crowe said he wants voter fraud to be a felony crime in Louisiana. He's also described his background in building a records management company, saying more needs to be done to bolster the secretary of state's work overseeing state archives.

Edmonds and Stokes have focused more heavily on office controversies, with Edmonds saying the agency "has a black eye" and he'd restore integrity to operations. He's criticized work to replace Louisiana's 10,000 voting machines.

The voting machine contract award was thrown out by the state's top procurement official, who said the work needs to be rebid because the secretary of state's office mishandled part of the bid process. Ardoin defends the selection work as fair and properly done.

Stokes said she will re-establish trust in the office and ensure every employee feels it's a safe place to work, a reference to allegations Schedler sexually harassed one of his workers. Stokes, a certified public accountant, said she'd start the job with a full audit of operations and spending.

Ardoin and Stokes are the top fundraisers in the race.

DEMOCRATS

Democratic candidates include Gwen Collins-Greenup, a lawyer and notary from Clinton, and Renee Fontenot Free of Baton Rouge, a top aide to two prior secretaries of state who most recently worked in the attorney general's office.

Collins-Greenup has raised only about $2,700 for her campaign, but she's been active participating in candidate forums and local events. She's said she wants to expand the office's business registration and development efforts and improve voter outreach.

Free, endorsed by the Louisiana Democratic Party, has focused on her experience in the secretary of state's office, including running an election in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and helping to choose voting machines, without the type of controversy surrounding the current selection work.

OTHER CANDIDATES

Two other contenders — Thomas Kennedy III, a Republican from Metairie, and Matt Moreau, a Zachary man with no party affiliation — have reported little to no fundraising and haven't attended the major campaign forums.

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