UPDATE: This story was edited to include a comment from Secretary of State Ed Buchanan.
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan will leave office before the end of his term. Buchanan’s departure will trigger an appointment process to fill the role until January.
Buchanan announced in May he would not run for re-election to instead seek out a judicial opportunity. Gordon appointed Buchanan district court judge for the Eighth Judicial District in July.
Now, it appears, Gordon will be tasked with making another appointment — this time for a temporary secretary of state.
The governor’s office has not yet received a letter of resignation from Buchanan, according to Michael Pearlman, Gordon’s spokesperson. However, Buchanan will take the bench on Sept. 19, according to the district court. The Wyoming Constitution prohibits district court judges from holding other offices.
Buchanan confirmed he starts his new position on Sept. 19 and said his last day as secretary of state will be around Sept. 15.
The timeline appears to be a departure from plans shared by the governor’s office when it announced Buchanan’s appointment to the bench.
“Secretary Buchanan will remain in office to fulfill his forthcoming duties and ensure a smooth transition before taking the bench,” Gordon said in a press release.
However, Pearlman on Tuesday clarified that the press release “shouldn’t be interpreted to say that he was going to stay for the entirety of his term.”
The governor’s office did not know for certain Buchanan’s last day, Pearlman said.
“What we did know was that the secretary was going to stay in place through the primary election and to fulfill his duties with the canvassing board.”
Once Gordon receives Buchanan’s notice, it will trigger the appointment process. The governor “shall immediately notify in writing the chairman of the state central committee of the political party which the last incumbent represented at the time of his election,” per state statute.
Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne must then call a meeting of the state central committee to be held no later than 15 days after he receives notice of the vacancy. At the meeting, the committee is required to select three candidates to put forth to the governor, who then has five days to make a selection.
The appointed person will remain in office until the winner of the general election is sworn in on the first Monday in January, who could be the same person. Such was the case with Buchanan, who won his election in 2018 after being appointed earlier that year in the wake of Ed Murray’s resignation.
Wyoming’s appointment process was the source of controversy and a legal battle when it was used in January to replace Jillian Balow after she resigned from her position as superintendent of public instruction. The way that appointment played out — which critics said violated the Wyoming Constitutional provision of “one-person, one-vote” — has spurred lawmakers to consider changing the process by creating a special election for certain vacancies. Should that bill succeed, the soonest it would go into effect would be some time next year, following the 2023 legislative session.
As lawmakers discussed that effort last week, Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) noted that another statewide appointment was expected to happen “sometime in the next probably month,” a reference to Buchanan’s departure.
The temporary appointment will be short, but it will overlap with the general election in November — a critical time for the office which oversees Wyoming’s elections. Still, Buchanan is confident it will be a smooth transition because of election workers across the state.
“County clerks are true professionals at what they do. They’re the ones that run elections. So we will have all the support in place necessary to have a successful general election,” he said.
Buchanan’s time as secretary of state has been largely characterized by his efforts to educate Wyoming residents about the procedures in place to ensure election integrity and security.
His office also responded to heightened concerns about voter fraud by adding an enhanced audit to the 2022 primary election, which indicated zero issues across all 23 counties.
“No credible candidate for any office in Wyoming can say that Wyoming lacks election integrity,” Buchanan wrote in an op-ed in June.
Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) ran a campaign heavy on that idea, however, and secured the Republican nomination against two opponents in the recent primary election. He faces no challenger in November.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify details regarding Gov. Mark Gordon’s announcement of Ed Buchanan’s appointment to the Eighth Judicial District. —Ed.