To Increase Confidence In Elections, Legislator Says Every Ballot Should Be Made Public

in News/Legislature

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, wants a database set up where people can inspect every ballot cast in Wyoming elections.

“You would just see the image of a person’s ballot, not the name or any other identification,” he said. “I think it would be kind of cool.”

That won’t happen if a proposed bill for consideration in the upcoming session of the Wyoming legislature goes through. 

‘Why Not?’

House Bill 6, Specified Election Records Not Subject To Disclosure, would prevent those types of inspection. The law would make cast ballots, cast ballot images, cast vote records, and other data derived from cast ballots of individual voters explicitly confidential under state law. 

“The bill makes them protected, and I don’t get why showing them would hurt,” Case said. “I think why not?”

Under the Wyoming Constitution, any piece of a voter’s identification, such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, birth dates and telephone numbers, are to be kept confidential. 

Case argues the same standard should not apply to ballot images, which he says contain no Identifying information.

A Confidence Booster

Although absentee ballots contain a voter’s signature on the outside of the envelope containing the ballots, there is no signature on the inside of another inside envelope containing the absentee ballot.

The biggest inspiration behind Case’s desire for a publicly viewable database is to increase public confidence in elections.

“People are so suspicious now,” he said about elections systems and processes.

There was a recent push in Park County and statewide to have a hand-counted audit of 2020 election results. On the campaign trail, Secretary of State-elect Chuck Gray said he supports hand-count audits of elections. 

Already Viewed As Confidential

Case said it’s already the view of the Secretary of State’s office, per advice from Attorney General Bridget Hill and the Wyoming Ombudsman Darlena Potter, that releasing ballot images would violate the part of the Wyoming Constitution guaranteeing secrecy of a person’s ballot. 

Case said he doesn’t understand this determination as there are no identifying marks on either in-person or absentee ballots.

“I don’t see how it violates any privacy issue,” he said.

There is a subgroup working under the Wyoming Republican Party’s Election Integrity and Security Committee petitioning the state to preserve voting records and ballot images from prior elections. 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 last month. “It’s just the ballot image.”

Other Elections Bill

Another bill passed by the Legislature’s Corporations Committee would assign identifying numbers to voters and allow absentee ballot requests and returns to be public information. 

This was an issue brought up by a few candidates during recent elections, complaining that their county’s election staff did not provide them with information that could have helped them identify who would be early voting.

Although the information was previously provided by the state, the Secretary of State’s office made a determination to turn this responsibility over to local counties to provide as they saw fit for the 2022 elections.

Case said he doesn’t understand why the information isn’t readily publicly available from the state and voted to support the bill draft in October. Voter registration information is public in Wyoming, as information on whether a person voted or not.

The unique identifying numbers for each voter also would be given out when requested. 

Other Committee Bills

The Labor Committee has passed draft legislation that would offer 12 months of Medicaid postpartum coverage in Wyoming. 

In November, the Revenue Committee passed more far-reaching legislation to expand Medicaid services to all deemed eligible under the Social Securities Act, an estimated 19,000 people in Wyoming.

The Judiciary Committee has pushed forward with legislation that would require each district attorney in Wyoming to be a licensed attorney and a member in good standing with the Wyoming State Bar throughout their term of office. 

This bill could be in response to Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove, who did not run for re-election. 

Earlier this year, a Wyoming State Bar panel recommended Manlove be disbarred for poor office management and misuse of prosecutorial discretion. The Wyoming Supreme Court will likely soon decide if Manlove should face sanctions that could include revocation of her law license.

Lawmaker Compensation

Although the Management Council last week voted against increasing lawmaker salaries in 2027, the legislature will consider another Council bill that would raise the per diem rate for expenses incurred during the session from $109 to $155. 

The bill, which would go into effect in 2024, would allow the state auditor to adjust the per diem rate each summer to the most standard rate. Other legislation would establish a state officials’ compensation commission. 

The council also has sponsored legislation that would allow legislators and their dependents to enroll in the state employees and officials group insurance plan, with the legislative branch paying the employer’s share of the premium.

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