By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Although the Secretary of State’s role in Wyoming has not historically drawn much attention, Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan has overseen a more high-profile tenure.
“If anybody wants to measure success, you look at how much enrichment you received in your life and how much did you teach to others,” Buchanan said. “This job has enriched my life greatly.
“What an amazing treasure it’s been.”
The security of the state’s elections was rarely questioned until recent years. In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, supporters of former President Donald Trump rallied around Trump’s claims that the election was stolen, rigged and rife with voter fraud.
Although Trump won Wyoming by a larger margin than any other state, his claims of fraud were extended to the state. This rhetoric heightened during this year’s Republican primary race for Secretary of State, as winning candidate State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, promoted the idea that Wyoming’s elections are not secure enough and that cases of voter fraud are left unprosecuted in the state.
Buchanan said he found this rhetoric “disappointing” and an example of political campaigning gone too far. He said “words and phrases” were used during the campaign that “do not apply to the state of Wyoming.”
“It was obviously disappointing because I went to great effort to teach people about it (election security) and we have a candidate who uses too much rhetoric and instills unnecessary fear in the public,” Buchanan said. “It was disheartening to see someone effectively expressing, in effect, disinformation and outright lies told about elections in Wyoming.”
“Candidates often play fast and loose with the things they say but if you’re not being truthful, you still have a responsibility to be accurate,” Buchanan said in a Thursday morning interview with Cowboy State Daily.
One of the Secretary of State’s main duties is overseeing the state’s elections. Buchanan said this involves offering a broader policy vision for the public, but it is the state’s 23 county clerks who run Wyoming elections.
Buchanan’s faith in the state’s elections has never wavered. This summer, he traveled the state, hosting presentations where he explained the election processes and laws in Wyoming and brought in staff from Election Systems and Software to explain how its voting machines work.
Election fraud was a topic in campaigns leading up to the August primary, but there were no major setbacks or claims of irregularities or fraud. The Secretary of State’s office performed an audit of randomly selected ballots on election night and no issues were reported.
Gray has no opponent in the general election and is expected to be the next Secretary of State. Shortly after his election, two high-ranking officials in the Secretary of State’s office said they were either leaving or planning to leave their positions.
Buchanan said Gray has “a lot of work to do” to gain the backing of his employees, but it’s not an impossible task.
“Candidates for political office have to choose words carefully when campaigning,” Buchanan said. “If they are not careful, they have work to do on the back end.”
Elections have come under greater scrutiny during Buchanan’s watch, but he has remained steadfast in his belief that they are secure. His replacement ran successfully on a mostly opposite opinion.
“No matter who won that race, I want them to be successful,” Buchanan said.
Since taking over the office, Buchanan said he has tried to lead with a listening-first approach.
“Anybody elected to an office should listen,” he said. “Anybody that does that can be successful.”
He has also made an effort to learn as much as possible. Although Buchanan has an extensive background working as an attorney and in politics, he had never directly worked in elections before being appointed to the Secretary of State job by former Gov. Matt Mead in March 2018.
The Secretary of State has many other responsibilities besides elections. They also serve as a member of the State Loan and Investments Board, a body charged with making critical financial decisions for the state. Another duty is approving charter schools that want to open in Wyoming.
“I’ve learned about the state’s business division,” Buchanan said. “I’ve learned so much about elections from my staff and the 23 county clerks.”
The Secretary of State is also responsible for all corporate formations and serves as a regulatory body for securities exchanges in the state.
Buchanan said the biggest challenge his office faces looking forward is the need to modernize and provide more services for the public online. Buchanan also wants his staff to have greater ability to enforce limited liability corporation and campaign finance laws.
Gray has said he wants to look at making Wyoming’s limited liability corporation and trust laws stricter to prevent foreign oligarchs from using the state as a tax haven. Buchanan said he believes this activity is extremely limited.
“Like everything, it is always a balancing act between free enterprise and appropriate government regulation,” he said. “It’s because of the freedoms we enjoy that we try to have the least burdensome laws.”
Although Buchanan initially signaled he would run for reelection, he pulled back from this commitment in May to apply for a district court judgeship in Torrington. Buchanan was chosen by Gov. Mark Gordon in July for the job.
Buchanan said he considers being a judge the quintessential capstone to his career.
“I love to have the opportunity with being a judge to be studying law, examining the law,” he said.
In many ways, becoming a judge is a full circle moment for Buchanan.
Buchanan’s life has been defined by the law, politics and aviation. He served as an officer in the Air Force from 1990-1994 and later earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Wyoming in 1998.
He served in the Wyoming House of Representatives from 2003-2013, rising to the role of House Speaker by the end of his career there.
“Next to my family, serving in the Legislature and as Secretary of State has been a highlight of a lifetime,” Buchanan said.
But his preference to be a judge has been clear since he applied to be a circuit court judge in Goshen County in May 2019 — barely six months after he was elected to his first full term as Secretary of State
Buchanan has said his last day on the job will be on Sept. 15.
Wyoming law dictates that the governor must appoint an interim Secretary of State. The State GOP chooses three finalists for Gordon to choose from.
Only a resignation letter from Buchanan can officially start this process, which Buchanan said he’ll deliver on his last day in office.
Frank Eathorne, chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party, in a recent letter complimented Buchanan for his work, and implored him to stay on the job through the November general election.
“The best candidates have a job they must wrap up before they can move on to a new position,” Eathorne wrote. “Gov. Gordon knew this when he selected you and the courts will manage if you need to remain in your current role until general election canvassing is complete.”
Buchanan said although this request is flattering, he reiterated that it’s the county clerks and his staff that do the bulk of the work during the election.
“If anyone bothers to read the law, it’s the county clerks that are running elections,” he said. ““Wyoming people need to rest assured they will get an election just as great without me.”
He also said there has been a scramble trying to fill the Eighth Judicial District Court role since former Judge Patrick Korell stepped down on Aug. 2, with a rotating cast of retired judges and other actively-serving judges from around the state filling in the gap.
“The reason I’ve worked this long is I wanted to find a good moment for a transition,” Buchanan said. He said he found mid-September the best time for a departure, with State Loan and Investment Board hosting a meeting on Sept. 14, its last meeting until early October. “I’m trying to balance the needs of elections and the judicial branches.”