By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A dispute over the election of Uinta County Republican Party officials has moved into the courtroom with the filing of a lawsuit alleging that the party’s new chairman and other officials were improperly allowed to vote for themselves.
Seven GOP members, including two current and one former legislator, are suing the county party, its current chair, its past chair and its state committeeman and committeewoman, asking that the election that put the officers in place in March be declared void.
“Allowing the Uinta County Republican Party to disregard state statute by granting voting privileges to whomever they so desire, need, or wish to vote, in an obvious, blatant and brazen effort to maintain power among a dynastic group of exclusive individuals, is a violation of the (state) election code, which precludes those who are not qualified to vote in order to properly preserve election integrity and to prevent election fraud and corruption,” said the lawsuit filed April 16 in state district court in Evanston.
But Elizabeth “Biffy” Jackson, elected chairwoman of the party during the March meeting, denied the allegations.
“The 2021 Uinta County leadership elections were held under the exact same rules as all elections in the past, as far back as anyone currently involved can remember and in strict accordance with the bylaws governing them,” she said in a letter to the editor of the Uinta County Herald.
The lawsuit stems from a dispute over the election of party officers during the party central committee’s meeting on March 16.
Under state law, each county party’s central committee is made up of committeemen and committeewomen elected from their precincts during each primary election. During meetings on odd-numbered years, the county committees elect a chairman and state committeeman and committeewoman. The committeeman and committeewoman, along with the party chair, represent the county at meetings of the state central committee.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Dale Cottam, said while Uinta County recognizes 36 central committee members, 40 people were allowed to cast votes at the committee’s March 16 meeting by Lyle Williams, who was the committee’s chair at the time.
The extra four voters were Williams, wife Jana Lee Williams, daughter Elizabeth Jackson and close friend Karl Allred, the lawsuit said, adding all four were allowed to vote even though they were not precinct committeemen or committeewomen and as such not members of the central committee.
“The improper and illegal allowance of these four individual defendants to vote resulted in the election of … Mrs. Jackson as the county chairman, … Mr. Allred as state committeeman, and … Mrs. Williams as state committeewoman,” said a brief filed in support of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said all four lost their campaigns to serve as precinct committeemen and committeewomen during the state’s August 2020 primary election.
It also alleged that the four were allowed to vote despite advice to the contrary by Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jon Conrad, a committee member who ran for the chairman’s position, state Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, Rep. Danny Eyre, R-Lyman, former Rep. Ron Micheli and county central committee members Clarence Vranish, Clara Jean Vranish and Troy Nolan.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the elections null and void, to order new election to select officers and to rule that Jana Williams, Jackson and Allred take no action in the positions “they now improperly purport to hold.”
The lawsuit said it is important that the court move quickly because of the role Jackson, Jana Williams and Allred could play in the State Central Committee of the Wyoming Republican Party.
“Time is of the essence as the State Central Committee will take its first official action on May 14 … to elect a state party chair and other leadership positions,” said a brief filed in support of the lawsuit. “These improperly and illegally selected representatives from Uinta County could represent each of the county central committee members and each registered Republican in the county if the court does not act quickly.”
However, in her letter published April 14, Jackson accused those opposing the outcome of the March meeting of attempting to “unseat the long-standing leadership of the party and replace them with new officers.”
“Failing by a narrow margin to do so, they have resorted to misguided and dishonest attempts to get their way by circumventing the electoral process,” she wrote.