Wyoming has a problem with “election integrity,” but it’s not voter fraud, international hackers or corruptible voting machines.
It also has nothing to do with ballot drop boxes, voter IDs or, as someone testified at a recent legislative meeting, a suspicious number of cars with Colorado license plates parked near polling places during the primary election.
No, the biggest threats to free and fair elections here are unsubstantiated and/or debunked claims that we don’t already have free and fair elections.
If people don’t trust that their votes are properly counted, why show up at all? If election judges’ diligent work is questioned by their fellow citizens, why sign up to spend 12 hours at the polls making sure every vote is legally cast and tabulated?
This isn’t a problem just in Wyoming. Baseless rhetorical attacks on America’s election system are now endemic, no matter how many times votes in the 2020 presidential election were recounted and found to be accurate.
Contested presidential elections and the associated political turmoil are nothing new. Republicans accused Democrats of cheating after John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in 1960, and the U.S. Supreme Court gave George W. Bush a controversial victory over Al Gore four decades later. But there was always a peaceful transition of power.
Until 2020, when former President Donald Trump claimed massive election fraud that didn’t occur. He’s never conceded to President Joe Biden and never will. Trump is likely to run again in 2024.
Trump sewed the seeds of mistrust in 2016, when he claimed the election would be rigged against him. His supporters were convinced: A poll one week before the election showed 79% of Republicans believed Democrats might steal it.
Of course the GOP dropped its complaints when Trump won the Electoral College. But Trump played the same fraud card in 2020, claiming dirty deeds by Dems before any votes were even cast. Nothing has been peaceful about politics since.
I never heard any doubts about election integrity here until it became a major talking point of the Wyoming Republican Party. For the life of me, I still can’t understand why residents in a state where Trump won 70% of the vote keep questioning the election’s legitimacy. It’s patently absurd.
Nothing has caused the chaos to subside. Not even then-Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, a Republican, declaring that the 2022 primary election was the fairest and most secure in state history seemed to help.
Wyoming Elections Director Kai Schon said election officials deftly handled a power outage at one poll site and a flood at another without any threats to election integrity. Only one machine out of 302 had a jam, and at the end of the day all were fully functional and tabulated every ballot.
“These issues and how they were remedied are direct proof of the integrity of our county clerks in the election,” Schon said.
But dozens of people who attended the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee’s Oct. 14 meeting in Cheyenne don’t believe it. They testified against a draft bill to codify the way Wyoming has certified electronic election equipment for the past 16 years. Despite the opposition, it passed by a 12-1 bipartisan vote.
You’d think that people concerned about election integrity would be in favor of such a bill, but no. They don’t care if the machines are certified because they don’t want Wyoming to use them at all.
Some said electronic machines can be hacked. Even more insisted the state go back to paper ballots and pens.
“You’ve got a paper record if a recount needs to be done, and there’s no way it can be tainted or doctored,” said Don Odom of Cheyenne, who also wants all ballots counted by hand.
Why stop there? Didn’t the Flintstones use a slate and chisel to make their election choices?
For the record, Wyoming already uses paper ballots. The Secretary of State’s website describes what happens: “Every voter, whether through filling out a paper ballot by hand or using the touchscreen (ExpressVOTE) has a paper ballot that is cast indicating their ballot choices.”
There is always a paper trail that can be used to confirm the accuracy of every single vote. The clerks have a secure chain of custody for all ballots, whether cast absentee, early in-person or at the polls on election day.
But why let demonstrable facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory?
Before every election, each of the state’s 23 county clerks conduct tests of voting machines that are open to the public. After the election, clerks audit a portion of the voting machines to validate they are still reading ballots with 100% accuracy.
Despite chortles from some in the audience after Schon said the machines are not connected to the internet, they are not connected to the internet.
In 2019, Wyoming signed a contract with Election System & Software to provide all the state’s election equipment. The Secretary of State’s website debunks the myth that ES&S voting machines have a built-in wireless modem that transfers election data that can be intercepted and manipulated by anyone, including foreign adversaries.
There are no modems, and the SOS site says Wyoming’s voting machines “do not even contain the software or hardware necessary for a modem to function.”
No one, including the county clerks who supervise them, says Wyoming elections are error-free. Mistakes are made, but these dedicated public servants do their best to prevent them and fix them. They do not deserve to be maligned by anyone trying to score cheap political points to please Trump.
That includes Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper), a 2020 presidential election denier who is unopposed for secretary of state after defeating Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) in the GOP primary.
The choice between candidates to replace Buchanan, who decided to take a gubernatorial appointment as a district court judge instead of running for re-election, was stark.
Nethercott agreed with Buchanan that Wyoming elections are secure. Gray toured the state offering free showings of “2000 Mules,” a film that pushed the phony claim Democrats stuffed ballot drop boxes and stole the election. He said the election was “rigged” and Biden’s presidency is illegitimate.
I get it: many Wyoming Republicans are convinced our elections aren’t fair, or they wouldn’t have chosen Gray. I doubt if there is any set of facts one can offer to change most of their minds.
Gray campaigned on removing ballot drop boxes, which fortunately won’t be up to him. The Legislature is responsible for making election laws, not the secretary of state, who enforces them.
It’s frustrating to see elections cause so much turmoil, both for Republicans who have lost confidence in the system and others — including myself — who worry about damage to the Elections Division from new leadership that wants to fix a system that isn’t broken.
The fallout is already serious. Schon and Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler both resigned after Gray’s primary win. Fortunately, they will both stay through the Nov. 8 election, but when Gray takes over the state will lose their combined 50 years of election experience.
Another key slot to fill will be the communications and policy director. Monique Meese, who held the job, resigned two days after the primary. “[Gray has] called into question the integrity of this office, and now he’s going to run it. And yuck,” she told the Cowboy State Daily.
Yuck, indeed. But don’t forget to vote, with confidence that your ballot will be counted. I’m anxious to put mine in the Laramie County drop box, while I still can.