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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
More than 18 months after the 2020 elections, election security and integrity continue to be topics of concern for certain Wyoming residents. On Tuesday, those questioning the security of voting machines scored a small victory.
Park County Commissioners said at their meeting on Tuesday they will consider allowing a group of local citizens to hand count the more than 17,000 ballots cast in the 2020 election in that county to determine the accuracy of the results presented by the machines.
Bryan Skoric, Park County prosecuting attorney, said he will seek guidance from the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office on the matter.
“We’re trying to produce a piece of evidence that will satisfy people’s anxieties,” Boone Tidwell, a Cody resident pushing for the hand count, said at the meeting.
The proposal submitted by Tidwell and the Park County Republican Men’s Club, which later changed its name to The Sons of Freedom, was to test the accuracy of voting machines by hand counting every single ballot cast in this year’s county primary and general elections.
Skoric rejected the proposal as illegal, but he and the commissioners left open the possibility of a count of the 2020 primary and general election ballots, as this election has already been certified. This count would take place before the upcoming August primary.
“It’s not a recount, they’re just verifying what they find for a count,” said Commissioner Chairman Dossie Overfield.
Under this proposal, Tidwell’s estimated 300-400 volunteers would receive election judge training so they could be considered official election officials. They would be instructed to not cash their mandatory payment for these services.
Skoric warned the group that some differences between the hand counted and machine counted ballots will occur.
“You’re going to get a different count than what the machine-count,” Skoric said. “Machines do what they’re told to do, in terms of if you don’t fill in the circle or if you only put a mark beside the circle, it’s not going to count that. Are 10 of your 300 (volunteers) going to count that or 299? That’s the subjectivity we’re talking about. The counts will absolutely be different and it would be in any count.”
Secretary of State Ed Buhanan addressed the idea of hand counted ballots at a county commission meeting in April, when he said he does not believe election officials or volunteers have the legal right to hand count. ballots.
Tidwell cited the Wyoming Constitution in defense of the proposal, which requires that “The legislature shall pass laws to secure the purity of elections, and guard against abuses of the elective franchise.”
But Buchanan and Skoric have argued that state statute governs the counting of ballots.
“Ballots designed to be counted by machines, each individual vote shall be determined by the voting equipment and shall not be determined subjectively by human tabulation” unless a ballot is received so soiled that it cannot be read by a voting machine, the state law said.
“The statute defines the law and the law simply cannot be ignored by local officials,” Skoric wrote in his decision letter.
State statute, crafted by the Wyoming legislature, does not override the Constitution and must be followed unless it is determined to be unconstitutional, leaving a gray area the attorney general’s office will be asked to address. Skoric also said the privacy of voting guaranteed in the Constitution would be violated with a hand count, but Tidwell stressed there would be no forms of identification included on the ballots counted.
“Based on Wyoming statute, the federal statute and that Wyoming constitutional provision, I don’t believe it can be done specifically,” Skoric said.
Skoric said following election procedures is critical as it ensures uniformity across the state and voter confidence.
“Manual tabulation of the ballots could also elicit the natural subjectivity of persons counting the ballots, the very thing the Legislature intended to eliminate,” Skoric wrote in his letter.
Tidwell and the Men’s Club initiated mock elections at Park County schools to test out how long it would take to count the ballots, determining it would take about three hours to count 11,000 ballots.
The topic of hand counting ballots has not been limited to Wyoming. Some of those who claimed the presidential election of 2020 was “rigged” have been pushing for hand-counted paper ballots.
For some, eradicating voting machines harkens back to a time of perceived purer elections. In 1957, the Wyoming State Legislature permitted the use of automated voting machines in the Cowboy State for the first time, according to the State Archives.
“A hand count of those ballots is simply pure, physical evidence,” Tidwell said. “There’s a phenomenal amount of people in this county who have told me they won’t vote on the machines.”
Detractors of hand counting ballots argue the process would significantly delay the reporting of results and introdue human error and bias to the counting equation.
All voting machines are tested before an election and post-election audits have consistently found that although it is technically possible for a voting machine to be hacked, it is also incredibly unlikely. These audits will be performed after the election this fall as part of a program being instituted by Buchanan.
But hand counting ballots is not a totally unheard-of practice, with many rural jurisdictions in New Hampshire, Maine and Wisconsin hand counting ballots rather than using machines.
Crook County Clerk Linda Fritz has said that to increase election security in her sparsely populated county, polling places would need to be shut down to allow for increased supervision.
This was an effort considered in Park County out of COVID-19 concerns, but then scrapped due to public outcry on the matter, with opponetns saying the move would have reduced voter turnout.
Even though many of the people pushing to keep the polling places open vowed to volunteer to staff it, Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden said the volunteers did not turn out.
“Any group or individual concerned with election integrity should volunteer as an election judge,” Skoric wrote.
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