Bill To Strip Likely Secretary Of State Chuck Gray Of All Powers Dead

A proposal to strip likely incoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray of his powers in favor of a nonpartisan elections commission is likely dead, according to Rep. Dan Zwonitzer.

Leo Wolfson

October 12, 20225 min read

Collage Maker 11 Oct 2022 07 10 PM
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter

A proposal to establish a nonpartisan elections commission is likely dead in the water, said state Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne.

Zwonitzer, chair of the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, had proposed setting up a five-member, nonpartisan elections commission oversee Wyoming elections. The panel would take power away from future secretaries of state in their duties to oversee state elections. 

Zwonitzer said he’s dropping the proposal because it’s unlikely to gain any traction with lawmakers.

“This is not something anyone believes will pass in February,” Zwonitzer told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday afternoon.

Zwonitzer said his idea to set up the commission still is alive, but will take a back seat to a slate of other elections-related bills planned to be discussed at the Corporations Committee meeting on Friday.

“It’s not dead, but it’s a low priority,” Zwonitzer said.

Zwonitzer previously said the election oversight committee would be appointed by the state’s Canvassing Board, which is made up of the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and state treasurer.

When originally discussing the bill, Zwonitzer made it clear the legislation was directed at state Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, who won the Republican nomination for secretary of state in August. As he has no official opponent in the general election, he is largely expected to be the next secretary of state.

‘Not What I Had In Mind’

Zwonitzer said a bill drafted by the Legislative Services Office to enact the proposed election commission does not reflect what he had in mind.

“We’re probably not going to hear it because the way they worded it is not what I envisioned,” Zwonitzer said.

The draft bill establishes a six-person commission that is solely appointed by the governor with approval from the state Senate. The bill would allow up to four members to be from the same party. 

Zwonitzer said he envisioned his commission as being an independent panel selected by the Canvassing Board.

Zwonitzer said because of many other bills being considered at Friday’s meeting and the discrepancy between his intentions and the drafted bill, it’s highly unlikely to be discussed.

He also said he believes the commission proposal to be a longshot, considering that nearly 50% of the House will be filled with new legislators when the next session starts in January. 

“We could easily have a sea change of ideas,” Zwonitzer said. “The chances of this group implementing a significant change of practices is not likely.”

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, also expressed support for the proposal. 

Sparked Controversy

The elections commission proposal drew outrage from a number of leading voices within the Wyoming Republican Party, such as Gray.

“Republicans across Wyoming correctly see Case’s and Zwonitzer’s effort for what it is – a couple of big-government insiders who are shamelessly ignoring the will of voters and our right to have our elected officials represent us,” Gray told Cowboy State Daily in September.

Case supported the elections commission and attempted to recruit an Independent candidate to run against Gray in the general election. He was censured by the Wyoming GOP in September.

“Your recent attacks upon the duly elected winner of the Republican primary election for the Office of Secretary of State, coupled with your guest column in the press, are not consistent with the message of party unity,” a letter circulated within the GOP said before Case’s censure. “The idea that an elected ‘Republican’ would undermine the will of the Republican voters of this state is beyond the pale.” 

Other Bills

The Corporations Committee will consider a smattering of bills Friday that would institute various forms of open primaries, ranked choice voting, new procedures for filling vacancies of elected officials and voter registry data in Wyoming.

Zwonitzer sees the number of bills being considered as a reflection of an overarching discontent about the state of Wyoming’s primary elections and elections systems.

“Everyone agrees change is needed,” he said. “Most people agree our primaries are not working for everyone.”

Zwonitzer said he suspects a large audience at the meeting, with about 40 people already signed to speak against the elections commission, certain leaders of the Republican Party expected to attend. 

“This is part of a whole conversation about elections and the parties,” Zwonitzer said. “Everything going on with elections is crazy right now.”

During the Corporations meeting in August, National Committeeman Corey Steinmetz spoke against open primaries and making any changes to elections laws. Certain conservative lawmakers like Gray have advocated for runoff elections.

The Corporations meeting will run Thursday and Friday at the Capitol. The election bills will be discussed Friday, with that meeting beginning at 8:30 a.m.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter