If there is a state that doesn’t need to worry about the security of its elections, it’s Wyoming. A former Republican secretary of state and all 23 county clerks said audits showed Wyoming operated with “100% accuracy” in the 2020 and 2022 elections.
So what useful information could new Secretary of State Chuck Gray possibly learn by attending a private, secret, dark money-financed meeting with eight of his election-denying GOP counterparts in Washington, D.C.? How to improve on perfect election performance?
There was plenty of information to absorb at the Heritage Foundation’s Secretary of States Conference in February, according to Gray, who campaigned last year by agreeing with former President Donald Trump’s big lie about how the 2020 election was “clearly rigged” against him.
Gray told Cowboy State Daily that the all-GOP conference, which he attended instead of a more mainstream, bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State meeting held at the same time in Washington, had “invaluable information related to keeping clean voter rolls, election transparency and election integrity.”
That’s not exactly how The Guardian described the convention’s mission. The British investigative newspaper reported the Heritage Foundation and two other right-wing think tanks “have created an incubator of policies that would restrict access to the ballot box and amplify false claims that fraud is rampant in American elections.
“The unstated yet implicit goal is to dampen Democratic turnout and help Republicans to victory,” the paper added.
That includes Wyoming, I guess, which always strikes me as an odd state for Republicans to try and delegitimize elections. Trump won 70% of the votes, the GOP holds all congressional and statewide offices and 93% of legislative seats. You’d think the far-right would fry its fraud fish somewhere else.
Oh, I get it — it’s a much more enticing conspiracy theory if a vast majority of Americans are convinced no election is safe from sticky Democratic fingers stuffing ballot boxes. Gray understands that; why else would he go bonkers about how Wyoming must get rid of ballot drop-boxes in the few counties that have them?
Gray failed to get the Legislature to require the state Department of Audit to audit all elections, likely because county clerks automatically do it now. The secretary of state, then a candidate, was also a fan of a Park County group’s demand that officials let them count all ballots by hand.
Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, the hometown icon in that county, poured ice-cold water all over the “inane” proposal in a letter to WyoFile. I don’t know if Gray has much respect for his party’s elder statesmen, but perhaps he actually listened to Simpson and abandoned his support for a nutty idea.
“It’s your right to be guarded, suspicious, fearful and afraid. Go for it!” Simpson wrote to the group. “But, please leave the rest of us alone who believe in truth and integrity, and don’t try to shove down our throats every cockamamie conspiracy that ever came down the pike.”
Gray pushed for a ban on “crossover” voting as a necessary ingredient of election integrity, and he made it his top priority. It passed, and Gray crowed that it will keep Democrats in their own lane and prevent them from switching party affiliation after May 1, before voters even know who’s running.
The only thing the change is likely to do is suppress the Democratic vote. Disinterested in their own single-candidate races and excluded from having a voice in the GOP’s competitions, many won’t bother to show up. That’s the real intention of the new law.
Gray’s predecessor, Ed Buchanan, was so confident about the much-maligned presidential election, he said the voting machines were “more secure and sophisticated” than any others used in the history of Wyoming’s elections.
According to the conservative Heritage Foundation’s own database, the Equality State has prosecuted precisely three cases of voter fraud since 2000, resulting in four convictions — all Republicans.
Gray, though, has doubled down on his message. He’s upped his game and convinced even more Wyomingites their votes aren’t being counted.
This is dangerous for several reasons. If people don’t go to the polls because they don’t trust the results, it naturally undermines their faith in democracy. As Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project told a congressional committee last year, the right to vote holds a special place in our democracy.
“Well over a century ago, in trying to provide an example of the essential truths of this nation — that a person’s life, liberty or happiness, cannot be subject to arbitrariness and that ours is a government of laws, not of people,” Rosenberg said, “the Supreme Court described the ‘political franchise of voting’ as not strictly … a natural right, but as ‘a fundamental political right … preservative of all rights.’”
As founder and director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research David Becker told Governing magazine: “Having someone who fundamentally doesn’t believe in American democracy, who attacks the very process by which we resolve our political disagreements, could potentially lead to an environment where political violence is possible.”
Conspiracy theories must be popular with Wyoming voters. How else can one explain why State Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne), a competent civil servant who offered a detailed defense of the safety of Wyoming elections, lost by 9 percentage points to Gray, a conservative talk show host who couldn’t provide an iota of evidence of his wild claims?
I know it’s difficult to get Democratic candidates to jump into a statewide race, because it takes a huge expenditure of time, energy and money for an almost inevitable defeat. But even many Republican officials were uncomfortable with the idea of Gray as their standard-bearer.
State Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) tried in vain to convince a conservative to run against Gray as an independent. Even before Gray won the general election, some Republican lawmakers talked about stripping his new office of its election duties.
Gray is now devoting much of his time trying to intervene in the state’s defense of its abortion ban, but Gov. Mark Gordon and Attorney General Bridget Hill reminded him it has absolutely nothing to do with his job.
In an email, Gordon noted that “grandstanding for the public does not sway judges or win cases.” Zing!
The governor shouldn’t be too hard on him. Having never held a real big-boy job — the sum total of his adult employment has been collecting a paycheck from his father’s media company — Gray’s still figuring out the whole duties and responsibilities thing.
Here’s another misstep during Gray’s mere four months in office. He and a few lawmakers held a private meeting with Douglas Frank, an Ohio election denier who visited a half-dozen Wyoming counties as part of his never-ending election fraud road show.
At an Evanston public meeting, Frank encouraged the audience to go canvassing to verify that household head counts match voter rolls.
“I’m not just here to convince you there is fraud,” Frank said. “I’m here to light fires, and then throw gasoline on those fires.”
I don’t know if Gray has hired someone to serve as his new elections division chief, but he may have just found his man.