A polling place during a special election in Sheridan in 2019. (Kevin Knapp/WyoFile)

Amid heightened scrutiny, heated testimony, and key staff resignation announcements, Wyoming lawmakers tackled numerous hot-button election topics Friday, including electronic voting machines, ranked-choice voting, primary reform, elected-office vacancies, campaign finance and the election-oversight authorities of the secretary of state.

None of the measures under consideration will have bearing on this year’s Nov. 8 general election.

The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee voted to sponsor six measures: one to codify how the state certifies electronic voting equipment; another to allow ranked-choice voting in non-partisan municipal races; a bill refining the process for filling elected-office vacancies; two bills clarifying what information can be scrutinized by the public post election; and a resolution calling on Congress to limit or prohibit corporate campaign contributions.

Despite long-standing complaints about crossover voting in primaries and the plurality system that enables candidates to win with less than 50% of the vote, the panel declined to recommend any primary election reforms. Crossover voting refers to the practice of switching parties to vote in a primary.  

“It has been 10 years that people have said we need a different primary system,” committee Co-chairman Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) said. 

House Revenue Committee Chairman Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne)

“So the drumbeat remains that … the majority of our citizenry, of all sides, says the system we have could be improved,” Zwonitzer said. “We’ve just not been able to come up with something that we want to present to the full Legislature as of yet.” 

The committee also surprised observers by dropping from its agenda and declining to discuss a bill to restrict the election duties of the secretary of state’s office. If that measure reemerges during the general session it will do so without committee backing.

It was the final meeting for several committee members who either lost their primary races or did not run for re-election. It was also the last corporations meeting for Kai Schon, director of the secretary of state’s election division, and Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler. Both staffers told the committee they will stay on through the general election, but will leave before the new administration takes office next year. They take with them more than 50 years of combined experience in the secretary of state’s office and follow out the door Monique Meese, former communications and policy director, who left after Rep. Chuck Gray’s (R-Casper) primary election victory in the secretary of state’s race. 

Election integrity

Much of the public testimony Friday underscored mistrust in Wyoming’s election system among certain voters, including Republican party operatives and candidates for office. 

Audits before and after the 2020 election in Wyoming indicated 100% accuracy across the state. Some residents still question the results. Discussion grew tense at times with several members of the public telling lawmakers they had either witnessed or heard of election fraud happening in the state. 

“I have had three different people call me and assure me that they’re voting in more than one state,” Wyoming GOP Executive Director Kathy Russell said. The three callers claimed to have voted in both Arizona and Wyoming, according to Russell, who said she did not report the three allegations of ballot fraud because she did not know the identities of the callers. 

Kathy Russell, on the left, testifies to the House Appropriations Committee in March 2022. Russell is executive director of the Wyoming Republican Party. (Screenshot/Wyoming Legislature)

Matt Freeman, Constitution party candidate for House District 41 in Cheyenne, also told lawmakers he also did not file a report after learning of alleged election fraud in Laramie County. Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) said that’s a problem. “The minute you see or hear something, you should go report that,” Driskill said. “And if you don’t report it, it’s no different than watching someone steal your neighbor’s gas.”

Some commenters expressed concerns about fraud by hacking or other forms of electronic interference. Wyoming’s voting equipment is not connected to the internet and does not contain hardware or software necessary for internet access. Regardless, some residents told lawmakers they wanted the state to return to hand-counting paper ballots. 

All 23 counties in Wyoming use paper ballots, some of which are handled directly by voters, others, like in Laramie County, which are produced and cast by touchscreen systems following each voter’s selections. Machines are used to tabulate the votes. 

State statute prohibits the hand counting of ballots. A group of Republicans in Park County was denied a request to do so earlier this year. 

The committee voted to sponsor a bill that would write into law the method by which Wyoming certifies electronic voting equipment.

Appointment process 

Two out of Wyoming’s five statewide elected officials are temporary appointments due to recent vacancies. Both Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder and Secretary of State Karl Allred were selected by Gov. Mark Gordon from slates of nominees put forward by the Wyoming Republican Party, as required by state statute. 

The 2022 appointments of Schroeder and Allred came with controversy. The former sparked a short-lived lawsuit and the latter has added pressure to lawmakers to change the vacancy process. 

Secretary of State Karl Allred is sworn into office by Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Kate M. Fox at the Capitol building on Oct. 3, 2022. (Gabriela Allred/Provided)

The committee advanced a bill to excise political parties from the appointment process. The measure was originally drafted to replace the current process with a special election. The aim was to let voters, instead of political parties, decide.  

Right now, a vacancy of either the 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 tasked with selecting three nominees. The governor then selects an appointee. 

If the governor vacates office, either the acting governor — who in Wyoming is the secretary of state  — finishes the term or there’s a special election, depending on the timing of the vacancy. The committee’s bill would keep most of this in place, only changing the timing determinant from 60 days before a general election to 110 days. 

“I think some reform in the vacancy process is extremely important,” Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) told the committee, asking his colleagues to put themselves in his position. Less than two weeks before Allred was appointed interim secretary of state, he called Yin a “flippin’ idiot” and said “we need to get rid of him” during a GOP state central committee meeting. Allred will now oversee an election in which Yin is a candidate, a circumstance the incumbent lawmaker sees as a conflict of interest. 

Following amendments, the bill wouldn’t create a wholesale move to special elections, as originally proposed, but does remove the role of political parties. In its current form the bill calls for a special election if more than half of the total term remains upon vacancy. If less than half of the term remains, the governor would make an appointment from a pool of applicants of the same party as the vacating official. The bill would apply a similar process to vacancies in the Legislature, calling on county commissioners, instead of the governor, in the event that an appointment is necessary. 

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2022 budget session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

The committee also amended the bill to have the state absorb the cost of any special election, rather than have counties foot the bill. 

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) opposed the bill and unsuccessfully moved to table it. 

“I have real reservations about special elections. We’ve talked about the cost, but I think, more importantly, is you have a real problem getting a decent turnout,” Scott said. 

Public records & campaign finance 

After the 2020 election, the secretary of state’s office was “buried” in public record requests having to do with voter information and absentee ballots, according to Deputy Secretary Wheeler. In the midst of that, Wheeler said her office completed a review of related statutes and realized it was not clear what was considered a public document and what was protected under ballot privacy. As such, the committee voted to sponsor two bills that would provide guidelines for such requests. 

The committee also voted to sponsor a house joint resolution calling on the United States Congress to limit or prohibit corporations and other entities from making campaign contributions. 

Steven Klein, an attorney based in Washington D.C., testified on behalf of the Wyoming Liberty Group, calling the resolution “a radical bill to amend the First Amendment.” 

Klein also dismissed a campaign-finance transparency issue brought to the committee. 

In September, Campbell County Clerk Susan Saunders filed complaints with both the Federal Elections Commission and the secretary of state’s office against Coal Country Conservatives Political Action Committee. Saunders alleged a lack of campaign-finance transparency when the group mailed voter guides and placed advertisements for hundreds of candidates but did not file an expense report with the state or the federal government, effectively obscuring the PAC’s funding. 

“What’s offensive about this other than 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 markings of people trying to comply with the law.”

The FEC determined the PAC did not comply with federal guidelines when it did not file a mandatory July quarterly report. 

“The failure to timely file a complete report may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action,” the Federal Elections Commission wrote in a formal notice to the PAC on Aug. 2. 

Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) during the 2021 Wyoming Legislature. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

For six weeks after the notice, the PAC did not file a report. Once Saunders filed her complaint and news outlets, including WyoFile, reported on the matter, the PAC filed a report on Sept. 14. It didn’t offer much clarity. The majority of its contributions were listed as anonymous $50 donations. 

“It’s clearly a move, in my opinion, to get around the reporting requirements,” Driskill said.

The PAC filed its October quarterly report Saturday about an hour after the FEC’s deadline. As before, most contributions were reported in anonymous $50 increments. 

While the committee did not motion for a draft bill, Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said he planned to bring an individual bill to “close the loophole.” 

Neither Colleen McCabe, the PAC’s treasurer, nor Laura Cox, the PAC’s president, testified at the meeting.

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. My favorite line from this article that sums up this whole issue:

    “Some commenters expressed concerns about fraud by hacking or other forms of electronic interference. Wyoming’s voting equipment is not connected to the internet and does not contain hardware or software necessary for internet access.”

  2. This famous quote from the 33rd President of the United States pretty much sums it up for me regarding Politicians in General and more specifically in Ogden Driskill’s Case (AKA: CROOK County Sinator Driskill)! He needs to go! I will be Writing in the Right Candidate on Nov. 8th. No Rank Choice Voting or Run Off election is no election at all!
    “Show me a man that gets rich by being a politician, and I’ll show you a crook.”
    ― Harry Truman

  3. No voter fraud in the 2020 election? Maybe not in Wyoming to any significant extent. But fraud does occur more than you know. As a Physician with multiple decades of experience I know that dementia has a differential diagnosis to include Picks disease, multi-infarct, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, Lewy Body disease and the list goes on and on. I have no idea what type of dementia Joe Biden has but I can tell you during the campaign he did NOT show signs of early dementia. Rather he was showing signs signs of late early to early mid stage dementia and was heavily medicated.His disease progression “shaking hands with people on stage that are not there even when heavily medicated” not even 2 years after the election should tell you something. I would not expect the average voter to recognize it and instead chalk it up to the “Biden Gaff” but it was not that which clued me in. It was my extensive experience as a practicing Physician. So most voters I suspect did not know but those in the “inner circle” must have known. Physicians who tried to point this out were censored and ridiculed. I know as I was one of them. So the Democratic party defrauded you putting Joe Biden up for election knowing he had multiple signs of dementia. Let that sink in. Try to play doctor if you want. Voter fraud has many colors.

    1. I wonder about any MD, esp. one unlicensed in gerontology or neurology, who makes a diagnosis of dementia in a public figure. If David Earl-Graef never clinically examined Biden and lacks access to his medical records, methinks I know who plays public doctor here. It is ethically questionable.

    2. Yeah and 45 had/still has textbook narcissistic personality disorder, all of the GOP knows this and ran him anyway, so…… what’s your point again?

    3. The fraud that exists is not committed by voters. it is caused by legislatures, and voting officials, particularly in southern states, who make it hard for people of color to vote. That is called election fraud, not voter fraud by those in possession of at least half a brain. Fasciuglicans have practically repealed the Voting Rights Act over the decades since it was enacted. They love to bellow loudly about how important it is to make it HARD to vote… This ol’ country is about over with. Good riddance!

  4. It’s kind of ironic (and laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic) that the people concerned about voter fraud the most are the ones committing it! The supposed people who called “anonymously” admitting to voter fraud knowingly broke the law. That doesn’t mean the system is broken as people break laws everyday, it means that they need to do better at catching people who break the law. And in this case I’m just about 100% sure, if it actually happened, that these were Republicans who committed voter fraud if they voted in 2 states. You have to go out of your way to register to vote and then to vote – so they had to have lied to one state or the other. If a state “accidently” mailed you a ballot after you are no longer a resident (or meet voter requirements), and you use it, your still breaking the law. Take accountability for your actions Republicans! Don’t blame the system for your illegal activities.

  5. It amazes me to listen to the states leaders talking about voter fraud when we live in one of the reddest states in the country. What do they want to reform? Try and make sure the state is 100% red and not allow anyone that isn’t a true blue tRump supporter to vote?

  6. Voter fraud, that is very laughable in this state, since republicans always seem to get voted in, as a matter of fact it’s quite boring to listen to, since the same repetitive rhetoric is spouted over and over again. When I voted in Laramie County I thought the voting process was very secure, and I feel our voting machines work much better than paper ballots, as long as the people working the voting booths are honest people , and they are , usually retired senior citizens.

  7. A house is only as good as its foundation. The foundation of our house, since 1890 when we changed from a Territory and became a State, was and should still be the Constitution which is more than a bunch of words, it is the law. I have posted elsewhere that anyone who only reads article 6 section 11 of the Wyoming Constitution and has mind left at all can begin to see just how badly broken our election system is and this can’t be fixed by simply passing new laws. Any change to the election law which dictates procedure, must start at the foundation and to change the Constitution requires a properly conducted Constitutional amendment. Please consider this as a case in point. How about term limits as a basic election issue as it dictates who can run for office in the first place? In 1992, a referendum was passed by an overwhelming majority imposing term limits on our elected officials and the people were happy as they thought they had won a major important change to our elections via restricting eligibility to run for office. However, this was then legally challenged and the Supreme court ruled it was un Constitutional which was exactly correct as a change in term limits required an amendment. So here we are full circle with politicians in both the Executive and Legislative branches operating on the basis of unlimited terms in office which the people clearly did not want. Yes you read that right. No term limits. So by not addressing the Constitution, the action opened the door to legal challenge and any action the legislature takes without Constitutional considerations will do the same. If you think think the established political class does not have you running in circles you might want to step back and evaluate the shape of the corral they have you are in.