Secretary of State Ed Buchanan is unhappy about candidates calling into doubt the credibility of elections in Wyoming.
Buchanan, who has served as secretary of state for four years, said he doesn’t want to see the reputation of his office tarnished, a position he considers to be the “epitome of professionalism” and “the pinnacle of government service.”
The Secretary of State’s office oversees elections in Wyoming. Buchanan is not running for re-election and is now weighing in on the Republican primary race for this job.
“I really don’t want to see people be disingenuous about what they will (do) or think they can do once they get in here,” he said. “I want people to be honest about elections and what they can and can’t do in this office.”
Three Republicans are running in the GOP primary for the office: state Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, and Mark Armstrong of Centennial.
In his campaign literature, Gray has claimed the secretary of state is the “watchdog” of the state Legislature and the governor’s office.
Buchanan said although he collaborates with these two entities, he has no power to rule over them.
“I’m the person who has to go ask the Legislature for an appropriation,” Buchanan said, just as he did when receiving approval to purchase the current election equipment used around the state. “It’s a collaboration that was designed by the founding fathers.
“I don’t have the power to veto or sign bills. I’m just a member of the executive branch.”
Buchanan said what he finds particularly concerning is Gray hosting free screenings of the movie “2000 Mules,” a production that calls into question the security of drop box ballot boxes and alleges such ballot boxes were “stuffed” across the country, casting doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election. No footage from Wyoming was shown in the movie.
Gray said if he is elected, he will make these boxes illegal.
During a June 29 candidate forum in Jackson, Gray explained his skepticism of election security, saying “that’s not misinformation as the two other legislative opponents have tried to allege; that’s just trying to improve and get better.”
Gray has promoted his status as an “outsider” during the race. Previously, Dan Dockstader, Wyoming Senate President, had been running in the race but dropped out Wednesday.
Both Nethercott and Dockstader voted for election integrity measures such as Gray’s 2021 Voter ID bill. Buchanan also supported the this bill and said Gray is taking undue credit for the bill, but Gray was the bill’s lead sponsor.
Buchanan is concerned that the showing of 2000 Mules draws a misleading connection between drop box ballot fraud and Wyoming, where there were no documented instances of fraud involving the outdoor boxes.
“You’ve got a candidate for secretary of state who is hosting streaming of that movie and in the same breath is saying ‘I’m going to ban drop boxes,’” Buchanan said. “The implication is there is a connection between the movie and Wyoming and you’re playing on fears of the voters that is patently false.”
Buchanan said there were nine counties that utilized these optional boxes in Wyoming during the 2020 elections, each located outside county courthouses and under video surveillance. This contrasts with other states, where the boxes were located in other areas separate from government facilities, such as shopping centers.
These boxes are not illegal under Wyoming law and their use was adopted because of COVID-19 concerns. Due to the pandemic, many election offices instituted limited hours and restricted access. Thousands of voters statewide utilized the boxes.
Buchanan sees drop boxes as an extension of mail-in absentee ballots and the right of voters to deliver their ballot to their county clerks at their office. Ironically, he said he doesn’t see them as a tool of civic engagement, nor does he like them. Yet, he finds them unequivocally legal as long as they are located at a courthouse.
“The law says the ballot may be mailed or delivered to the clerk,” he said, comparing it to a nighttime depository box at a bank. “The law allows for it but we were very restrictive to say at the courthouse to the clerk.”
Voter Fraud In Wyoming
Buchanan is also concerned by certain campaigns claiming to have documented or exposed voter fraud in Wyoming.
Secretary of State candidate Mark Armstrong has also endorsed 2000 Mules and said absentee ballots were mishandled in Albany County. He said none of the public document requests or criminal complaints he submitted to that county’s district attorney or Buchanan were taken seriously. Armstrong said if elected, he will severely restrict access to absentee ballots.
“No candidate for this office has ever come to me or my staff and said, ‘Hey I found some voter fraud and here it is, it’s documented for you, please investigate this,’” Buchanan said. “For an individual candidate to suggest they’ve exposed voter fraud, that’s a little odd to say when they’ve never provided that evidence or documentation to us.”
Buchanan said there have only been a handful of cases of voter fraud in Wyoming over the years and the conservative Heritage Foundation has only documented three cases of voter fraud in Wyoming since 2000. Buchanan encourages people to bring any evidence of wrongdoing to the attention of his staff and ask questions about the election process.
“We want to follow up on it and fix something if we have an issue,” he said.
In 2021, a “Wyoming First Audit” chatroom on the online messaging app Telegram attracted more than 1,000 members. Some of the group’s emails referenced a “cyber symposium” in South Dakota that had been hosted by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, a vocal supporter of the theory that the U.S. and Wyoming elections were rigged.
A push for a hand count of 2020 ballots in Park County emerged this spring. Buchanan said a hand count would violate state and federal law and would require a careful change to state statute to become legal.
Buchanan also expressed frustration with U.S. House candidate Robyn Bellinskey, who cited Lindell’s accusation Wyoming elections were rigged, and with Lindell’s overall rhetoric. He said Lindell has never provided any evidence to his office.
“I think that’s misleading and dishonest with the public and creates fear where no fear is founded,” Buchanan said. “What I don’t like is people who claim fraud that have never provided evidence of that fraud to my office.”
Buchanan said prior to the 2020 election, elections were a rather mundane topic. He still finds most Wyoming residents “very confident” in the state’s elections.
His office unveiled a new post-election audit program after the 2020 election. Buchanan also recently toured the state giving presentations on how Wyoming’s elections work and how his department works to protect voter anonymity and ballots. He said the tour was successful, and left 98% to 99% of attendees, sometimes crowds in the hundreds, convinced of the security of Wyoming’s elections.
“They leave the presentation saying, ‘I learned so much about it. You answered most of the questions I had about the I had, and boy do I feel good about our elections,’” Buchanan said.