Amid heightened national and statewide interest in election security, four Republican candidates are pursuing the office that oversees Wyoming’s polls. 

Secretary of state is one of five statewide elected positions in Wyoming, and without a Democrat running, the August primary election is likely to determine the victor. 

The race comes as the office has taken on new prominence due to former President Donald Trump’s disproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Secretary Ed Buchanan, who will not seek re-election, has staunchly defended the integrity and efficacy of Wyoming’s elections. 

Despite the claims of Buchanan and others, some of the candidates competing for his open seat are nevertheless running on a platform to secure Wyoming’s voting system. 

Filing and finances 

Buchanan announced in May he would not seek another term in office. Though he previously said he would run, he reversed course when a judicial opportunity arose in his hometown of Torrington. Thereafter, the race filled up with three sitting legislators and one political newcomer. 

Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) was first to file, putting his name in the hat the same afternoon as Buchanan’s announcement. The next day, Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) entered the race, followed by Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) and Mark Armstrong, a petroleum engineer in Centennial. 

Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) during the 2022 Budget Session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Unlike Dockstader and Nethercott, whose terms aren’t up until January 2025, Gray will be out of public office entirely if he loses the secretary of state race since his House district is up for re-election. Before entering the SoS race, Gray was campaigning for Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He ended that campaign in September 2021 with approximately $195,000 on hand, according to FEC filings, that he can now use to run for secretary of state. 

How well Armstrong, Dockstader or Nethercott have been able to fundraise won’t be clear until sometime after Aug. 8, when the state requires Wyoming candidates to file campaign finance information for the primary election.  

Election supervision

Wyoming’s election code is decided by the Legislature and it’s up to the secretary of state to administer elections within the framework of those laws, according to the state’s constitution. So while only lawmakers can change the voting process, the secretary of state could make arguments in an attempt to sway the body one way or another. 

As administrator, the secretary of state provides election information to residents, such as how to register to vote or who and what is on the ballot. The SoS’s office also prepares a campaign guide for candidates and keeps track of campaign finances. 

In this race, all four candidates have made election integrity their No. 1 priority, but differ among how they define the scope of the problem and propose to address it. 

Armstrong has gone so far as to file criminal complaints with the very office he’s seeking due to his concerns regarding absentee ballots in Albany County. 

The only qualification to vote absentee voting in Wyoming is to be registered to vote in the state. That’s too low of a bar, according to Armstrong, who said he only supports absentee voting for those with a “reasonable explanation,” such as military service. 

Mark Armstrong, a petroleum engineer in Centennial. (Courtesy photo)

“That any qualified voter can vote absentee opens the door to fraud,” Armstrong said. 

In the 2020 election, a record high of 46% of ballots cast in Wyoming were absentee. County clerks asked the Legislature to ease that process for them in order to avoid error and provide results on election night. In response, lawmakers enacted legislation during the 2022 session that gives clerks the option to prepare and process those ballots the Thursday or Friday before Election Day. August will be the first opportunity for clerks to opt in to early processing. 

Armstrong called the bill a “huge rewrite of the election code” and said he would push to reverse it as secretary of state. Both Dockstader and Gray voted against the bill, while Nethercott voted in its favor and carried the bill on the Senate floor. 

Gray called it an “awful piece of legislation,” and had other critiques of how Wyoming handles ballots. Wyoming should ban “drop boxes,” Gray said. Similar to a mailbox, ballot drop boxes are secure containers used by county clerk offices to collect ballots. While the state currently uses paper ballots in combination with electronic counting machines, Gray said he would support adding a hand-count audit to the process. 

Among the four candidates, Nethercott is closely aligned with Buchanan in refuting the idea that the 2020 elections were insecure. 

Part of Nethercott’s trust in Wyoming’s elections comes from her time on the 2017 Plan for Aging Voting Equipment (PAVE) Task Force, which was responsible for helping Wyoming replace outdated voting equipment before the 2020 election. One outcome from the task force, Nethercott said, was the decision to select new voting equipment that does not have internet connectivity. 

When asked if he believes the 2020 elections were secure in Wyoming, Gray said, “the answer to that is . . . there’s tremendous problems.” 

Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) works the crowd on a campaign stop in Sheridan County in May 2021 during his now-suspended congressional run. (Nick Reynolds/WyoFile)

Recently, he’s sponsored free screenings in Lander and Riverton of “2,000 Mules,” a pro-Trump film that alleges massive voter fraud. The film does not make any claims about Wyoming’s 2020 election, but speculates about five swing states that ultimately backed Joe Biden for president. 

Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr criticized the film during a video clip played by the Jan. 6 committee public hearing on Monday. 

Part of the movie features video footage of people delivering ballots, purportedly as proof of illegal ballot harvesting. The photographic evidence was “lacking,” according to Barr.

In Wyoming, it is legal for another person to return a completed ballot on behalf of a voter. Although there’s no evidence this practice was abused in Wyoming during the 2020 election, the Legislature attempted to restrict it during the 2022 session by prohibiting any solicitation, gathering or submission of completed ballots without an accompanying written consent form from the secretary of state. Dockstader was co-sponsor of the bill, while Nethercott voted in favor of introducing it. However, it ultimately failed.

Gray would have supported the bill had it made it to the House, he said. 

Armstrong would push the Legislature to do more to restrict absentee voting, he said, including banning ballot collection, since he has “significant questions” about how those ballots were processed in 2020. The 2021 voter ID bill also falls short for Armstrong who said he doesn’t think there are issues with in-person voting on Election Day. 

Gray sponsored that bill, which is now law. It requires voters to show an acceptable form of identification when voting in person. Fifty-six lawmakers co-sponsored the legislation, including Dockstader and Nethercott. As secretary of state, Buchanan supported the bill. The law currently faces a lawsuit on the basis that it violates Wyoming’s Constitution.

Like Nethercott, Dockstader commended Buchanan for engaging the public with his election security presentations. But Dockstader stopped short of saying he believes the 2020 elections were entirely secure in Wyoming, opting instead to say they were “for the most part” secure. There’s also “room for improvement,” Dockstader said, adding that he would work with party officials to craft legislation to improve trust in the voting process. 

When asked if he would continue with public presentations like Buchanan’s, Gray said he had other priorities, like “fixing the problems.”

“I’m not into the talk that we see a lot from politicians […] I don’t do that,” Gray said. Armstrong said he would have similar priorities.

Other responsibilities and limits 

Supervising elections is perhaps the most visible duty of the secretary of state, but it’s not the only one. The office also oversees the business affairs of the state, including administering the registration of entities and acts as record keeper for Wyoming. 

Gray, Nethercott, Armstrong and Dockstader all described priorities that they say would retain Wyoming’s “business friendly” ways. 

For Armstrong, that would include persuading the Legislature to fund ongoing lawsuits concerning the commerce clause. He said this would enable Wyoming to ship coal to Asia and would boost the state’s economy. 

Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) on the Senate floor during the 2022 Legislative Session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

To reduce any business fraud, Nethercott said she would work to strengthen the state’s role in monitoring corporate securities. It would dovetail nicely, according to Nethercott, with her experience on the Legislature’s Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation Technology. 

Gray has his eye on the secretary of state’s role on the State Board of Land Commissioners. “I’m going to ensure that every state land decision is handled with a Wyoming-first approach,” Gray said. The commission is made up of the top five statewide elected offices and has the final say on what becomes of Wyoming’s property. Those five electeds also make up the State Loan and Investment Board, which manages the permanent land funds, among other things. 

Dockstader would “concentrate on jobs,” though he said that “maybe that would stretch the position somewhat.” 

Like its election administration, the secretary of state does not have the power to enact legislation related to business. But the office can effect change in other, more indirect ways, according to Jim King, a professor of political science at the University of Wyoming. 

It can determine what filings can be submitted online or what is required in person, and it can decide how quickly to process business incorporation papers, King said. 

“And all of these things would affect business in some way,” he said. 

The primary election is Aug. 16. 

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify Gray’s campaign priorities. —Ed.

Maggie Mullen

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. These people are so out of touch with what the actual Secretary of State’s office does. Wyoming hasn’t had any issues with election fraud. Mostly it’s an administrative position that deals with legal, business, reports and filings. We would so much better off if Karen Wheeler, the Deputy Secretary of State would just run and continue to improve technology and efficiency in the office.

  2. It seems like politicians are always trying to fix what ain’t broken. We have plenty of issues the Secretary of State could address, such as all of the mailbox shadow companies that pay very little in taxes. I hope whoever is elected focuses on real problems, not knee jerk political non issues.

  3. Thanks Maggy, for the timely report. As I’m only going to cast my vote for a same person , I guess I’ll have to vote for Tara Nethercott and will tell everyone I know to do likewise. Wyoming has one of the safest and most secure election processes in the country I remember all the discussions made in 2000 when we got rid of the hanging chad machines we looked at all options available and chose what I still think was the best verifiable paper ballots that are machine counted for speed and and accuracy!

  4. I have worked at every level of voting process and I see no way our election s in Wyoming could be rigged or could be fraudulent.

      1. As expected… your comment is about nonsense conspiracy theories and other debunked lies…

  5. Still on old drum, I see that Steinmetz has not been removed, She ran on the m. in Huntley Prcecte, she’s and was backed by Harriet, 2 pea’s on a pode, Looks like Gray maybe the best can dated.Wake up people, Later

  6. Voting should be secure, but at the same time, it should be as easy as possible – and as the constitution says – with no undue burdens! I will not vote for a candidate who is creating problems where there are none!

  7. WyoFile should quit saying that Trump’s claims concerning the 2020 elections have been “disproven.” The fact is, that in a stunningly close election, with many irregularities, and some proven vote fraud, no one knows for sure because no one knows how much or how little fraud took place. The “2000 Mules” movie makes a lot of unproven claims, but it raised a lot of important questions about how insecure our elections might be. My sister who lives in another state received multiple “mail in” ballots. Certainly she can’t be the only one. A Democrat elections official in Arizona pled guilty to ballot fraud for filling out “many” illegal ballots that were counted. She would have never been caught except for an unknown private video camera catching her filling them out. And she can’t be the only one doing it. The point is, election fraud is real and has been proven to have actually happened. How much fraud is anyone’s guess. If it swayed the outcome in the close 2020 election is something that will never be known. Regardless of what he claims, Mr. Trump doesn’t know if the election was stolen. But for WyoFile or Bill Barr to repeatedly say that Trump’s claims have been “disproven” is pure conjecture and should be stated as their own opinion. Not as a factual statement. To do otherwise, suggests open bias.

    1. There is no fraud. It has been proven somewhere around 60 times in court. I wouldn’t call 7 million votes close. Also many, if not most, of the tiny amount of fraud was committed by republicans. As for 2000 mules, it’s also been shown to be false. Even Bill Barr, Trumps minion, said that 2000 mules is “nutty”.

    2. There would be evidence of election fraud if it did occur. There has been no credible evidence presented. As much as you’d like to absolve chrump (and his nuthuggers) from the lies he perpetuated, it’s not an honest endeavor.

      There was no fraud on the scale that you wish. The election wasn’t stolen. The Chinese didn’t change vote tallies with their thermostats. Hugo Chavez didn’t put a conspiracy into play before he died. There are no watermarked ballots. Millions of dead people didn’t cast a vote. Italy had no part in stealing the election….etc

      It’s time to realize that you, and other chrump fanatics, have been suckered into believing nonsense.

      Reality would like you folks to come back to the table.

      1. Agree with Gordon and Chuck. Please return to the real world instead of supporting a would-be dictator.

  8. Armstrong is wrong. Wyoming has a growing number of snowbirds, people who winter in the south west, and have the right to vote. I’ve always felt votes should be counted as they come in to avoid the last minute hysteria.

  9. Claiming to fix a problem that only exists in the minds of people that have orange noses.

  10. The trash doesn’t take itself out, never has and never will. Every office SOS, County Clerk, etc. across the country claims no election fraud because to do otherwise would be complicit at some level, even if just carelessness. It’s total BS that our system isn’t connected to the internet. I’ve read the Election statutes and it’s there is black and white. Nethercott is a huge disappointment. Glad Buchanan isn’t running, too bad he will be a judge however. I’ve contacted his office and I’m always disappointed with them.