By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Former state lawmaker and Lincoln County Republican Party Chairman Marti Halverson said she feels much better about Wyoming’s election security than she does about the 2020 presidential election, but there’s still work to be done.
“There are still pockets of staunch resistance to our efforts,” she said at the GOP’s Central Committee meeting Saturday about Republican efforts to scrutinize the state’s elections process. “That being said, 100%, 90% better than in November of 2020.”
Halverson and another party member from Albany County were chosen by Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne in 2020 to set up an Election Integrity and Security Committee. The group initiated Republican Party poll watching training this year so that its members could observe and scrutinize the security of polling places across the state.
“What a massive successful effort helping Wyoming become the model for elections,” Eathorne remarked Saturday.
Tens Of Thousands Of Watchers
By Nov. 2, the Wyoming Republican Party had fully trained 203 volunteers for poll watching. The volunteers observed the early processing and preparation of mail-in absentee ballots and the tabulation of those ballots on Election Day. They also observed post-election audits and attended meetings of their local county canvassing boards.
Wyoming’s Republican poll watchers were just some of the 70,000 Republican poll watchers deployed across the United States on Nov. 8.
“Poll watchers are here to stay and we want to be accommodated for the sake of transparency and to ensure Wyoming voters that our elections are perfect from beginning to end,” Halverson said.
Wasn’t Always This Way
Poll watchers have been involved in American elections since the 18th century.
In 1981, a New Jersey Republican operation known as the Ballot Security Task Force put armed men in uniforms outside polling places in largely minority areas during a state election. The incident resulted in the Republican National Committee signing a consent decree that limited its ballot security operations. The decree expired in late 2018 when a federal judge declined Democratic attempts to renew it.
Any allegations of election fraud in Wyoming pale in comparison to some of the activities taking place in other states.
In Arizona, people staked out outdoor ballot drop boxes in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 general election, taking photos and videos of voters dropping off ballots. Some wore tactical gear or camouflage, and others were visibly armed. Some voters said they were approached or followed to their vehicles. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Nov. 1 to limit the watchers’ activities.
Halverson said prior to the 2020 election that only Democratic poll watchers were active in Wyoming. Poll watchers are different from election judges, which have never been restricted and have much more oversight power in elections.
“For almost 40 years Democrats have had election oversight all to themselves,” Halverson said in a Wyoming GOP press release. “In two years, Republicans have made great strides in catching up. We certainly do not have the same concerns or problems that some other states have. Our efforts here in Wyoming only seek to inject a little more transparency in our election processes and applications.”
Laramie County Clerk Debra Lee said no Democrats signed up to be poll watchers in her county this year.
What The Watchers Saw
Cheyenne resident Betty Matuska served as a Republican poll watcher at the city’s largest voting center on Election Day. She said she has been motivated to get involved because of “everything that has happened.”
“It’s fun. You get to see people you haven’t seen in a long time,” Matuska said, adding she has confidence in the security of Wyoming’s elections and saw no instances of fraud or irregularities. “I wouldn’t be volunteering in any other state.”
Cheyenne poll watcher Cheryl Black had a similar perspective.
“Everything’s working the way it should and it’s reassuring to see it and that’s what you anticipate,” Black said. “It’s just good to, you know, take the extra measures that keep everything, that keep all this in place. Maybe it staves off problems that never arise.”
Black mentioned allegations of election malfeasance in Arizona brought up by Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.
“We’ve got to have election integrity,” she said. “I think everybody wants to come together and feel like their vote counted and just once, and their neighbors (counted) just once.
“It’s an awesome thing and it’s easy for us as Americans to take it for granted. If people look across the world, you don’t have to go very far, and they don’t have the rights to go through the democratic process.”
Nina Webber, a national committeewoman for the Wyoming Republican Party who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, in the Republican primary, also had a positive experience poll watching in Wapiti.
“I didn’t see any problems,” she said.
Campaigning Near Polling Places
Halverson complained at the Wyoming Republican Central Committee meeting Saturday about election officials not equally enforcing electioneering laws around the state. The rules prohibit any campaign signage and campaigning efforts in close proximity of polling places.
“I noticed the complaints about Republican signs were taken a little more seriously than complaints about Democrats, which is a recurring theme over the last two years,” she said.
Halverson also mentioned how the Secretary of State’s office slightly altered the state’s election rules in August to delete a section that says poll watchers must be allowed to see all activities and records throughout the election day. This was clarified to say that poll watchers can only observe voter turnout, the voting machines and voter registration, and are not allowed to have any direct interaction with the voters.
“There are people and entities here in Wyoming that do not share our goal of an open transparent election process and operation,” Halverson said. “This change is an example of mostly subtle, sometimes blatant attempts to restrict poll watching and other election transparency efforts.”
Same-Day Voter Registration
Halverson identified the legal practice of people waiting to register and then vote in one single action on Election Day as “the No. 1 problem in Wyoming elections.”
A significant number of voters likely take advantage of this right, as it is shown to increase overall voter turnout by 5% to 7%, according to the Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2020, there were 34,212 more people registered to vote in Wyoming following the November election than entering the Nov., 3, 2020 election day, 16.6% of the total voter turnout in that election.
A Pew Research poll found that 64% of Americans support same-day registration. Wyoming is one of 18 other states to offer same-day registration.
On Saturday, David Bossie, chairman of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United and deputy campaign manager for former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, spoke to the Wyoming Republican Party.
This spring, Bossie released a movie titled “Rigged,” analyzing Facebook’s CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $400 million donation for get-out-the-vote efforts in certain districts around the nation. In Bossie’s movie, he makes the argument that this money was specifically given to left-leaning districts.
“I believe Mark Zuckerberg put his thumb on a scale for (President) Joe Biden in 2020, and I believe that his $400 million made the difference, but it doesn’t mean that it was illegal,” Bossie told Cowboy State Daily.
Bossie said he is encouraged by the fact that 24 states have changed their laws since 2020 to prevent this type of activity in the future. He said although it’s too early to say for certain, he was encouraged to see fewer complaints and accusations about election irregularities this year than in 2020.
Halverson wants the state to cut off all voter registration two weeks prior to the election.
If Wyoming did get rid of same-day voter registration, it would put the state in violation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which outlines certain voter registration requirements with respect to elections for federal office and requires that states offer voter registration opportunities at motor vehicle agencies and other state-run facilities.
The act provides an exemption to adherence, which Wyoming takes advantage of, by offering election-day registration at polling places.
Halverson isn’t concerned about Wyoming being found in violation of the law.
“It would only concern me if Wyoming didn’t do what was best for Wyoming,” she said, adding the state doesn’t need to be beholden to federal government funding provided to the state through the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
Halverson said in one county bordering Colorado, her team saw a significant number of Colorado license plates in a parking lot of a polling place, which she equates to voter fraud.
“We saw ample evidence of bad actors coming into Wyoming in their cars with other license plates, out-of-state plates registering to vote in our elections,” she said.
Halverson used the reports given to her by poll watchers in the primary for a synopsis of that election’s security to leadership in the Secretary of State’s office and County Clerks of Wyoming Association.
“It was a comprehensive to our debrief of the primary election processes and operating operations and the role of partisan observers,” Halverson said.
Halverson wants the state to perform and fund an audit of its voter rolls over the next 18 months.
More Voting Restrictions
She also wants absentee ballots only made available to those who will be absent on Election Day and a photo ID required to procure an absentee ballot. State law currently requires a photo ID to register as a voter, which is referred to when providing absentee ballots to requesting voters.
In Wyoming, there is no requirement for verifying the signature on an absentee ballot envelope.
“There’s a loophole in the law and the bad guys know it well,” Halverson, providing no evidence to back up her assertions.
There also is a subgroup working under the GOP’s Elections Committee that is petitioning the state to preserve voting records and ballot images from prior elections. Secretary of State-elect Chuck Gray said he will release ballot images and petition signatures when he takes office.
“Those are public records and there’s no markings on them to reveal who voted,” Gray said during a Sheridan County Republican Women meeting in October. “It’s just the ballot image.”
Attorney General Bridget Hill and the state of Wyoming’s Ombudsman Darlena Potter have maintained that releasing ballot images would violate the aspect of the Wyoming Constitution guaranteeing secrecy of one’s ballot.
Halverson said the party is considering its legal options on the matter.
“As you can see, we do a lot more than just poll watching in the course of our work over the last three elections,” Halverson said. “We identified many needed legislative fixes. We will be working with legislators to tighten things up legislatively.”