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Wyoming Attorney General Says Park County Cannot Count Ballots By Hand

in elections/News/politics

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter

An effort to trigger a hand count audit of 2020 election ballots in Park County has been, for the most part, exhausted and rejected.

The Wyoming Attorney General’s office has determined that Park County doesn’t have a right to allow a group of citizens to inspect and count ballots by hand.

Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric had submitted to the Attorney General’s office three questions related to the matter.

Q: Are there any circumstances where previous elections’ ballots can be counted by hand?

A: No. The AG’s office said state law that dictates all elections, past and present, must be counted by a designated machine. 

Q: Assuming that state law would not prevent a hand count of the 2020 ballots since the vote was already determined, would any individual or group counting these ballots nevertheless also need to be trained, certified and compensated pursuant to state law?

A: The AG’s office didn’t directly answer, but cited the Wyoming Election Code, which it believes prevents a hand count of the 2020 ballots.

Q: Does the Wyoming Constitution prohibit the county from ever turning over ballots from any election to any outside person or group?

A: Yes. The AG’s office mentioned how the Wyoming Constitution makes secrecy of the ballot compulsory. It said because the Constitution makes ballots confidential, the records in question may not be turned over to any outside person or group. 

Shutting The Door

With those questions answered, the Park County commissioners have indicated they’re shutting the door on any future consideration to hand count ballots.

In two of the three questions, the AG’s office cited state law that covers the way ballots are counted in Wyoming. The law states that ballots designed to be counted by machine must be counted by said voting equipment and not determined subjectively by human tabulation, except in the case of damaged ballots. The secretary of state can set rules for the counting of ballots. 

Incoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray may take a different view on the Park County audit than former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan did in May. On the campaign trail, Gray said he would like hand-count audits of elections.

Push For Criminal Probe

Cody resident Boone Tidwell, one of the lead organizers behind the campaign for the hand count audit, said he met with Park County Sheriff Scott Steward to try and get him to initiate a criminal investigation into inspecting the ballots. 

Tidwell believes it possible there is evidence a crime has been committed regarding electronic voting machines.

“He said, “I have no idea where I’d start,’” Tidwell told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Tidwell, a longtime former law enforcement officer and current bail bondsman, compared the response to the sheriff being told where a dead body is.

“How do you get there? You have to go look,” Tidwell said, stressing that transparency is a hallmark of innocent people.

There have been many allegations of fraud made regarding the 2020 presidential election, with nearly all disproven. Many were levied by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Question Of Confidence

Tidwell stressed that his request to inspect Park County ballots is not partisan or emotional in nature, and he simply wants to verify the accuracy of the machines so as “to put this whole thing to bed.” 

He said he wants to give people confidence in the security of elections or solve possible shortcomings with voting machines.

“This was never about the voting machines being corrupt or the 2020 election being bad,” Tidwell said. “It was about the opportunity to relieve concerns that people had that were worried about the security of the machines. It was to alleviate their fears.”

Wyoming Rising, a Park County civil liberty advocacy group, met with county commissioners in June and described the hand count audit request as an attempt to undermine confidence in elections.

Skoric said in April he would expect small discrepancies between hand count results and the machine tally. Tidwell said he wouldn’t have concerns if there is a small difference, but would be alarmed if the discrepancy reaching levels that could change the results of races.

Nearly Flawless Audit

According to the Powell Tribune, a post-election audit in Park County produced nearly flawless results. All 166 of the randomly selected ballots matched up with the actual marks made by voters, and all 996 of the votes reviewed by staff had been accurately recorded. 

Across the state, county officials examined 2,186 ballot images and confirmed the machines accurately read votes cast in all 13,116 contests.

The push for hand counting ballots has not been limited to Park County. The issue has been brought by other parties before the Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee in October. 

In a May decision letter, Skoric said state “statute defines the law and the law simply cannot be ignored by local officials.” 

Legal Definitions

Tidwell disputes multiple pieces of the AG’s determinations. He mentioned the 1803 Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison, which states that any actions made by a government in conflict of the U.S. Constitution shall be considered null and void. 

It is Tidwell’s opinion that Park County commissioners have abdicated their responsibility to uphold the purity of elections and guard against abuses in the election process.

“If they’re not going to follow the will of the people then they’ve voided their contract with the people,” he said.

He and others who pushed for the hand count audit requested commissioners and Skoric step down from their roles prior to the November election. Every commissioner up for reelection, Steward (who ran for commissioner), Park County Clerk Colleen Renner and Skoric were reelected in the August primary. 

“Did they?” Tidwell questioned. “We don’t get to know.”

Follow State AG

Tidwell also disagrees with the AG’s determination that privacy would be violated. Although there are no identifying marks on ballots cast in-person, a voter’s full name and signature is required on the inner ballot envelope used for absentee ballots. 

The commissioners have stressed multiple times they will follow guidance from Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill on the matter and do not want to open the county up to potential lawsuits. 

Wyoming Rising members warned the commissioners in June about possible legal action by green-lighting a hand count.

Will Allred Step In?

State law requires all 2020 ballots must be destroyed by Dec. 8. Tidwell is holding out a small hope that interim Secretary of State Karl Allred, who is aligned with Gray, will step in.

“The only solution is to inspect the paper ballots,” Tidwell said.

Hand counting ballots is not a totally unheard-of practice, with many rural jurisdictions in New Hampshire, Maine and Wisconsin using the tabulation method rather than machines. 

The vast majority of these areas have fewer than 2,000 registered voters, according to data from Verified Voting, a group that tracks voting equipment across states. 

The Associated Press reports that the most populous county in the United States to use only hand-counting is Owyhee County, Idaho, which had 6,315 registered voters as of 2020.

In Nye County, Nevada, which has a population of 53,450, a hand count was performed along with a machine count in that county’s election earlier this month. 

The Nevada secretary of state ordered the process to stop less than two days after it began prior to the election, and the count resumed after the Nov. 8 general election.

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