By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Election security is a key fixture of the Wyoming Secretary of State race, possibly one of the most contentious and competitive at the state level.
State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, says the state’s elections are secure with no major changes needed, while Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, says election fraud has occurred in Wyoming and changes are desperately needed.
Gray and Nethercott squared off in a forum Wednesday night in Casper that featured numerous moments of back and forth on the topic.
“We need someone that is going to be vibrantly getting things done,” Gray said. “Not someone who says, ‘everything’s fine, let’s look away.’”
Nethercott said she has worked with all 23 Wyoming county clerks to ensure election security. Natrona County Clerk Tracy Good attended the forum hosted by the Natrona County GOP and Natrona County Republican Women and said her counties’ elections are secure.
“They’re as secure as they can be,” Good told Cowboy State Daily. “We work long, hard days to make sure they’re done right.”
Gray said if elected, he would immediately take action to remove all ballot drop boxes. He said these devices facilitate ballot harvesting, which he would make a felonious crime.
As part of his campaign, Gray has been hosting free showings of “2000 Mules,” a movie that alleges ballot harvesting occurred through the use of ballot boxes during the 2020 election. Nethercott supports the use of these boxes.
“They are secure,” she said. “There’s none of these ballot drop boxes that you see in the propaganda. Let’s be realistic here.”
Gray also said he plans to outlaw large infusions of private funding going into elections, known as “Zuck bucks.” Zuck bucks are named after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who funneled money into charities that gave money to other charities that doled money out to government election offices at the state and local levels in the 2020 elections.
“We need to have a candidate who is focused on these election integrity reforms and focused on conservative reforms in our state,” he said.
Nethercott pushed back on these commitments, saying Wyoming has never received Zuck bucks, but said she would support legislation making this type of funding illegal.
SOS Cannot Make Law
She also reiterated multiple times the SOS cannot make law or turn anything into a felony, a dictation that requires legislative action.
“If the Secretary of State thinks they want to make a felony, then they’re running for the wrong office and need to run for the Wyoming Legislature,” she said. “So, if you want to ban ballot boxes, you should run for the Wyoming Legislature.”
Gray also criticized digital election machines that print out ballots and said he wants a hand count audit of each election.
“The Secretary of State is not a lawmaker and that lies within our Wyoming Legislature,” she said. “You have given them the power of your vote to make those laws. The Secretary of State is a rule follower, following the laws set by the Wyoming Legislature in the wake of the judicial branch, and it’s important that your Secretary of State knows that role and honors it, it is the rule of law.”
Casper resident Jim Anderson, who worked as a federal prosecutor as an assistant U.S. attorney was in attendance at the forum with his wife, who was a former director of elections for the State of Wyoming.
Anderson said the idea of using hand counting paper ballots is “silly,” mentioning the widespread fraud that occurred during the 1960 presidential election.
“It’s easier to commit fraud with paper than it is with the systems we have in place today,” he said.
Gray brought up Wyoming law that gives the Secretary of State the authority to maintain uniform elections, which he believes would give him the discretion to ban ballot drop boxes.
In an interview with Cowboy State Daily after the forum, he clarified that some of his election plans would have to take place through lobbying legislators, a move Nethercott said is appropriate only under certain circumstances.
“Everybody has the option to make the law, whether it’s doing it themselves or going to the right people to do it,” said Gray supporter Billi Paris.
Both veterans of the legislature, there was also much contention when it came to votes they made while in office.
Nethercott voted for and co-sponsored Gray’s voter ID bill, but only after voting against it originally in committee. Gray said she only offered her support after it became clear that the bill had enough votes to pass.
Nethercott criticized Gray for voting against a bill that would have enhanced reporting requirements associated with dark money in politics, but Gray said he only did so because of a provision contained inside it that would have let lawmakers simultaneously run for two different offices.
“The reason I voted against that reporting bill, because they inserted an interesting provision in there that would have allowed (U.S. Rep.) Liz Cheney to run for president at the same time as running for re-election in Congress,” Gray said.
Gray alluded to the “insiders” of the State Legislature on several occasions, grouping Nethercott in with that distinction even though they’ve both worked in the body for the same number of years.
He also brought up Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, calling him an expletive on a hot mic during last year’s special session.
“It’s just another example of how conservatives are accused of what the other side’s guilty on (being) a lot of issues,” he said.
Gray, who opposes crossover voting, says he has a different stance than Nethercott on the issue. Nethercott both voted for and against the crossover voting bill in this year’s legislature but supported it in her last vote from the Senate floor.
“I did in fact, vote to support the elimination of crossover voting,” she said. “So, you want to talk about integrity and transparency, let’s have an honest conversation about the role of the Secretary of State’s office.”
Gray touted the passage of his ultrasound bill in 2017- what he claims was the first piece of pro-life legislation to pass in Wyoming in 30 years, and another piece of legislation that prevented the University of Wyoming from using funding to pay for abortions. He also brought a bill that that was vetoed by the governor to get coal exported from the state.
“I believe my opponent has sponsored over 30 pieces of legislation, two of which have passed, one had my name on it,” Nethercott said, referring to the voter ID bill.
Nethercott provided more details than Gray as to how she would tackle the non-election duties of the Secretary of State role. The Secretary of State is responsible for all corporate formations and serves as a regulatory body for securities exchange, providing solutions to citizens who fall victim to financial fraud, the latter a sector Nethercott has about a dozen years of experience working in.
“It’s important that that office has that expertise to protect you, Wyoming voters and Wyoming citizens from that financial fraud,” she said.
The Secretary of State also serves on the State Board of Land Commissioners, State Building Commission and State Lands and Investments Board. Nethercott said the $25 billion the state has in investments has to be returned to the people and used for economic development.
Gray said he defines economic development differently than “the insiders, the media and the Democrats” and that he will bring “real economic development.”
“I’m not for picking winners and losers,” he said. “Picking an individual who’s politically connected is what often happens in Cheyenne and providing them a grant.”
Gray committed to tightening Wyoming’s family trust and limited liability corporation laws, some of the most lenient in the nation. He said he would consider performing a “back of the house” audit on these departments.
“We don’t want trust and LLC laws that are being taken advantage of by you know, Russian oligarchs, as sort of a tax haven,” he said.