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Election Integrity Is Priority in Secretary of State Race

Every candidate running for Wyoming’s secretary of state has said election integrity was their top priority, even as several of the candidates believe the state’s 2020 elections were without fraud.

(TNS) — Every candidate for secretary of state considers election integrity their top priority, they told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle last week. However, trust in the current system diverges among the four contenders, according to these interviews.

While some believe Wyoming holds a high standard for safe and secure elections compared to the rest of the nation, one would-be secretary of state has filed criminal complaints with this office due to absentee ballot concerns. They each have their own vision for success in either maintaining, improving or redesigning the state election process.

"It's important the Wyoming secretary of state continues to instill trust and confidence in the Wyoming voters about the security of our election process," state senator and Republican candidate Tara Nethercott said on Friday. "There have certainly been concerns nationwide about the integrity of our elections, and there have been allegations directed at the state of Wyoming about how we conduct our elections, all of which are false."

She believes Wyoming has secure and safe elections. Others share her opinion.

The incumbent in the office, Ed Buchanan, says he believes that the 2020 elections were mostly free of any major fraud. Buchanan initially decided to run for re-election and then reversed course to instead pursue a judgeship in his hometown of Torrington.

Wyoming Senate President Dan Dockstader is another Republican running for secretary of state, and he commended the work of Buchanan on election integrity. An initiative Dockstader hopes to continue if he wins the office is traveling around the state to educate and hear feedback from the public. He said he admired the balance Buchanan struck between making sure concerns are addressed and respecting the work of nonpolitical employees who work to make sure ballots are secure.


Dockstader recognized the work of municipalities. He visited with his local Lincoln County clerk, and said he was impressed with the security system, partnerships with local law enforcement and that there is no software directly connected to the internet. Election results are encrypted and audited.

One of the only aspects he said he was wary of was the absentee voting process. He worries there may have been voters turning in these ballots too early, and the ballots wait to be read in a space where the information is not completely protected. Docktader said he would guarantee its surveillance.

"Wyoming has a good system in place, we just have to make sure it never stumbles," he said.

Other candidates express distrust of state elections. Some are seeking major reforms.

Republican and petroleum engineer Mark Armstrong has made promises to fix the system from within. He and does not believe the 2020 election results in Albany County were handled properly. He has filed multiple public records requests, as well as criminal complaints to the Secretary of State's Office, due to concerns the clerk's office had opened and processed ballots without Republican election judges present.

He said he received unclear data from the county clerk's office and none from the secretary of state, so his claims went unaddressed. Armstrong said he could not speak to the rest of Wyoming, but he said his own investigation in Albany County raises his own security doubts in both the procedure and in the number of absentee votes received.

He sees the system as broken, and said he wants fundamental change.

"I'm going to fix the foundation, and they're going to paint the house," he said. "So if you want a house that's broken, the foundation's broken, to be painted some pretty color, you vote for the other three."

Other Changes

Rep. Chuck Gray, R- Casper, the fourth candidate, also considers election integrity the lead issue in this campaign. He said he is not just a lawmaker who started discussing security when there was a vacancy in the office.

He was the lead sponsor of the voter identification bill that passed the Legislature in 2021, and said he has been focused on reforms to the system for the past six years as a lawmaker. He wants to implement paper ballots, audit the vote count by hand and to ban "Zuckerbucks." This is a reference to the reported $419 million that Facebook parent company Meta CEO Mark Zuckerburg donated to nonprofits for election efforts tied to the 2020 election.

"We need to have a strong secretary of state who will protect that voter ID law, and a secretary of state that is going to advance election integrity," Gray said Friday.

He also wants to end absentee ballot drop boxes, because he said it's alarming that they even exist in the state. Armstrong wants to see reforms to this voting process, as well, just not by removing the boxes altogether.

Armstrong said he would push for a rewrite of the election code, because it says any qualified voter can vote absentee, and he suspects this opens the door to fraud. He wants people to give a valid reason for voting absentee, such as being in the military or being homebound, which he believes will reduce the number of residents not going to the polls in person.

He also doesn't approve of the timeframe in which ballots are opened.

"Opening absentee ballots six days before the day of the election means that the party has to provide election judges to watch that opening and process those ballots for six days," Armstrong said. "It's hard enough for us to get people to sit as election judges and poll watchers now, and they've made it harder."

Nethercott said she is not concerned about abuse of absentee voting, as has been alleged in other states, although she says this always warrants thorough review. She said to her knowledge there are only a handful of counties in the state that have ever utilized the drop-box system, and those boxes are located within the county courthouse and open during business hours. While there are no gaps she sees at present, she said the Secretary of State's Office has to be responsive to the needs of the voters.

A similar approach was taken by Dockstader. He also said he would lobby against crossover voting. During the 2022 budget session, one bill made it through the Senate, but not the House. It would have prevented Republicans and Democrats from changing their party affiliation at the last minute to participate in the primary of a party they had not already been a member of.

"That crossover voting bill needs to be brought back, and I would support (it)," he said.

Other Responsibilities

Elections are a key responsibility of the secretary of state, but the office also has other responsibilities and operating divisions.

Nethercott said as a practicing attorney, business owner and member of the Legislature's Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, she has extensive experience working with the Secretary of State's Office and knows its importance to the Wyoming economy.

It is responsible for providing the corporate entity status for all Wyoming businesses, which is a source of revenue. She wants to maintain the state's reputation as an efficient and business-friendly environment, and wants to play a role in monitoring corporate securities. She said this can help reduce any business fraud.

"And ensuring that those investment corporations that are operating within our state have the correct regulatory supervision for the protection of our citizens, and also allow them to thrive," she said.

Presenting the state as business-friendly is a priority for every candidate. But their methods and recommendations differ.

Gray said he wants to ensure there is a streamlined limited liability company filing process to support small businesses, as he considers them the heart of the economy. He added that he has led the effort on a bill capping property taxes.

Armstrong said he wants small businesses and small government, and for both to be conducted properly.

"I don't like taxes, I don't want more taxes," he said. "I want to reduce waste and spending in government."

Other initiatives he said he would take up include lobbying the Legislature to fund a lawsuit to regain the commerce clause. He would work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure ranchers have not only local control of production and processing of their beef, but to reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling.

The Business Division was a large focus for Dockstader. He sees the state as being in an energy transition, and wants to guarantee the state is ready to move into this new world. He said he would cultivate relationships with energy leaders and business owners to make sure they call Wyoming home.

Dockstader said this doesn't just mean focusing on existing resources like coal and natural gas, but also investing in newer forms of energy.

"We have to be prepared to make sure Wyoming is the leader in the nation on this," he said.

(c)2022 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne, Wyo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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