Amid intense scrutiny, heated testimony and announcements of key staff resignations, Wyoming lawmakers addressed many hot election topics last Friday, October 15, including electronic voting machines, ranked ballots, primary reform, elected office vacancies, campaign finance, and oversight authorities for Secretary of State elections.
None of the measures envisaged will affect the general elections of November 8 this year.
The Joint Committee on Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions voted to sponsor six measures: one to codify how the state certifies electronic voting equipment; another to allow ranked voting in nonpartisan municipal races; a bill refining the process for filling vacant elected positions; two bills specifying what information can be examined by the public after the elections; and a resolution calling on Congress to limit or prohibit corporate campaign contributions.
Despite longstanding complaints about cross-voting in primaries and the plurality system that allows candidates to win with less than 50% of the vote, the panel declined to recommend primary election reforms. Cross-voting refers to the practice of switching parties to vote in a primary.
“People have been saying for 10 years that we need a different primary system,” said committee co-chair Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne).
“So the drumbeat remains that … the majority of our citizens, on all sides, say the system we have could be improved,” Zwonitzer said. “We just haven’t been able to come up with something that we want to present to the entire legislature at this time.”
The committee also surprised observers by abandoning its agenda and refusing to discuss a bill to restrict the electoral functions of the secretary of state’s office. If this measure reappears during the general session, it will do so without the support of the committee.
It was the last meeting for several committee members who either lost their primary races or did not stand for re-election.
It was also the last company meeting for Kai Schon, director of the Secretary of State’s Electoral Division, and Under Secretary of State Karen Wheeler.
The two staffers told the committee they would stay until the general election, but would leave before the new administration takes office next year. They bring with them more than 50 years of combined experience in the office of secretary of state and follow the door Monique Meese, former director of communications and policy, who left after the primary election victory of Rep. Chuck Gray (R- Casper) as secretary of the state race.
Much of Friday’s public testimony underscored distrust of Wyoming’s electoral system among some voters, including Republican Party officials and presidential candidates.
Audits before and after the 2020 election in Wyoming indicated 100% accuracy statewide. Some locals still question the results. The discussion became tense at times, with several members of the public telling lawmakers they had witnessed or heard of voter fraud in the state.
“I’ve had three different people call me and assure me they’re voting in more than one state,” said Wyoming GOP executive director Kathy Russell. The three callers claimed to have voted in both Arizona and Wyoming, according to Russell, who said she did not report the three voter fraud allegations because she did not know the callers’ identities.
Matt Freeman, Constitution Party candidate for Home District 41 in Cheyenne, also told lawmakers he also did not file a report after learning of alleged voter fraud in Laramie County. Senator Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) said that was a problem. “As soon as you see or hear something, you should go report it,” Driskill said. “And if you don’t report it, it’s no different than watching someone steal your neighbor’s gas.”
Some commentators have expressed concerns about fraud through hacking or other forms of electronic interference. Wyoming voting equipment is not connected to the Internet and does not contain any hardware or software necessary for Internet access. Regardless, some residents have told lawmakers they want the state to return to manual ballot counting.
All 23 counties in Wyoming use paper ballots, some of which are administered directly by voters, others, such as in Laramie County, which are produced and cast by touchscreen systems after each voter’s selections . Machines are used to count the votes.
State law prohibits the manual counting of ballots. A group of Park County Republicans was denied a request to do so earlier this year.
The committee voted to sponsor a bill that would enshrine in law the method by which Wyoming certifies electronic voting equipment.
Two of Wyoming’s five elected statewide are temporary appointments due to recent vacancies. Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder and Secretary of State Karl Allred were selected by Gov. Mark Gordon from slates put forward by the Wyoming Republican Party, as required by state law.
Schroeder and Allred’s nominations in 2022 were controversial. The first sparked a short-lived trial and the second put additional pressure on lawmakers to change the vacancy process.
The committee introduced a bill to exclude political parties from the nomination process. The measure was originally drafted to replace the current process with a special election. The aim was to let voters, not political parties, decide.
Currently, a vacancy for Treasurer, Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, or Secretary of State triggers a two-step process. First, the state central committee of the outgoing official’s party is responsible for selecting three candidates. The governor then chooses an appointee.
If the governor leaves office, either the acting governor — who in Wyoming is the secretary of state — completes the term or there is a special election, depending on when the vacancy occurs. The committee bill would keep most of that in place, only increasing the timing factor from 60 days before a general election to 110 days.
“I think reform of the vacancy process is extremely important,” Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) told the committee, asking his colleagues to step into his shoes. Less than two weeks before Allred was named acting secretary of state, he called Yin a “creepy idiot” and said “we have to get rid of him” at a central committee meeting. GOP status. Allred will now oversee an election in which Yin is a candidate, a circumstance the incumbent lawmaker considers a conflict of interest.
Following amendments, the bill would not create a massive move towards special elections, as originally proposed, but would remove the role of political parties. In its current form, the bill provides for a special election if more than half of the total term remains vacant. If less than half the term remains, the governor would make a nomination from a pool of candidates from the same party as the incumbent official. The bill would apply a similar process to vacancies in the Legislative Assembly, calling on county commissioners, instead of the governor, in case an appointment is needed.
The committee also amended the bill to have the state absorb the cost of any special elections, rather than have the counties foot the bill.
Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) opposed the bill and unsuccessfully moved to introduce it.
“I have real reservations about the special elections. We talked about the cost, but I think more importantly you have a real problem getting decent turnout,” Scott said.
After the 2020 election, the Secretary of State’s office was “buried” in public record requests for voter information and mail-in ballots, according to Assistant Secretary Wheeler. Amid that, Wheeler said his office had completed a review of related laws and realized it was unclear what was considered a public document and what was protected by vote secrecy. . As such, the committee voted to sponsor two bills that would provide guidelines for such requests.
The committee also voted to sponsor a joint House resolution calling on the United States Congress to limit or prohibit corporations and other entities from making campaign contributions.
Steven Klein, a Washington DC-based attorney, testified on behalf of the Wyoming Liberty Group, calling the resolution “a sweeping bill to change the First Amendment.”
Klein also dismissed a campaign finance transparency issue brought before the committee.
In September, Campbell County Clerk Susan Saunders filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Office of the Secretary of State against the Coal Country Conservative Political Action Committee. Saunders alleged a lack of campaign finance transparency when the group sent out election guides and placed ads for hundreds of candidates, but failed to file state or federal expense reports, thus masking CAP funding.
“What’s offensive besides the unique spelling of the word sheriff?” Klein said in reference to an apparent grammatical error while holding up a copy of the voter guide. “These have all the marks of people trying to comply with the law.”
The FEC determined that the PAC did not comply with federal guidelines when it failed to file a mandatory quarterly report in July.
“Failure to timely file a complete report may result in civil penalties, audit, or enforcement action,” the Federal Election Commission wrote in an official notice to PAC Aug. 2.
For six weeks after the notice, the PAC did not file a report. After Saunders filed his complaint and news outlets including WyoFile reported on the case, the PAC filed a report on September 14. It didn’t offer much clarity. The majority of his contributions were listed as anonymous donations of $50.
“It’s clearly a decision, in my view, to circumvent the reporting requirements,” Driskill said.
The PAC filed its October quarterly report on Saturday about an hour after the FEC deadline. As before, most contributions were reported in anonymous $50 increments.
Although the committee did not propose a bill, Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said he plans to introduce an individual bill to “close the loophole.”
Neither Colleen McCabe, the PAC treasurer, nor Laura Cox, the PAC president, testified at the meeting.
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