By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
Fremont County Commission Chairman Travis Becker had some less-than-complimentary words for those who question the security of his county’s elections.
“We still have ding dongs that are questioning, in our own county,” Becker said during a Sept. 13 commission meeting.
State Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, spoke against the nature of Becker’s comment at the meeting.
“I always appreciate your candor, but I don’t appreciate the name calling,” Ottman said. “We need to be respectful of one another and as you expect that, the citizens of Fremont County expect that as well.”
Becker responded and defended his comment, saying “so be it.”
“I call it as I see it and I don’t mince words, representative,” he said.
Ottman issued a polite response and the commissioners moved on to another topic.
Eating His Words
Becker apologized for his comments afterward.
“I regret saying it,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Monday evening. “We all have the right to free speech under the First Amendment but that does not give us the right to be name calling.
“Whether you’re a commissioner or the president of the United States, it’s not acceptable.”
Becker said the point he was trying to make may have been “lost in the noise in making a rash statement.”
He made his comment in response to $10,000 the county is spending this year to outsource the coding of its election ballots. The cost was planned for in the county’s budget established in June but is something it hasn’t done before.
“We’ve never had to, but in order to shut people up, and it’s still not going to shut people up, we’re still having people question that, and it’s unfortunate,” Becker said during the meeting. “It should disgust the voters, it really should.”
Coding election ballots includes designing the layout of where candidate names appear and ensuring the layout aligns with voting machines.
“Because of folks having no understanding of the election process, how secure it is in Fremont County,” Becker said. “For you and your staff to have to go to these lengths, that’s the additional cost to ensure the election was free of fraud. Unfortunate that we had to go to that route.”
Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese concurred with Becker’s statement.
“There’s a lot of mistrust of elections,” she said. “This is nothing new.”
She and Chief Deputy Clerk Margy Irvine performed this job in the past, working a series of nights and weekends to prepare the ballots.
“We knew we could save the county money, we’ve done this for a very long time,” she said.
Freese said handing this duty off to election machine company ES&S, which she said she “absolutely trusts,” allows her and the county to avoid potential scrutiny and legal action from those questioning the integrity of their work.
“I think that’s safer for Fremont County to not have people questioning what we’re doing,” Freese said.
Freese won her reelection bid in the August primary by a large margin.
Ding dongs also is the name of a popular snack cake made by Hostess and likely isn’t the most offensive name someone has ever been called.
But Becker’s sentiment was not lighthearted, saying he suspects there are people all around the state who have come to inaccurate conclusions about election security without doing proper research.
This spring in Park County, a group of constituents requested a hand count audit of the county’s 2020 election results before consulting with the county’s election staff.
“I’m positive it’s happening in every county in this state,” Becker said.
Freese also mentioned how there is some misunderstanding about the fact elections around the state are almost entirely run on the county level.
“I want to protect the local people who are running elections here and try to keep you (commissioners) free from running lawsuits,” Freese said. “I don’t need the headache, I don’t need the scrutiny.”