Wyoming elections would be subject to post-election audits and early voting windows would be shortened under a bill advanced by a legislative committee Tuesday.
Senate File 153, titled “Election Security,” would reduce early voting to 28 days from the current 45 for domestic applicants. Overseas applicants and military would still have 45 days to vote early or with an absentee ballot.
On post-election audits, state law doesn’t require them, but there’s an outstanding directive to require them by former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan.
Pressure to require audits has increased in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, which former President Donald Trump and his supporters have maintained was tainted by widespread fraud.
If SF 153 passes, Wyoming would still have the 12th longest early voting period in the country. Mary Lankford, a representative from the Wyoming County Clerks Association, said the average length of early voting offered by U.S. states is 23 days.
It passed unanimously out of the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.
Making post-election audits mandatory would involve enshrining the current Buchanan-era directive that each county clerk audit the two closest statewide races in their counties by inspecting 5% of total ballots cast.
The legislation also gives flexibility to clerks to audit other local and legislative races as they see fit and the secretary of state power to request audits.
County clerks “would have the discretion to say, ‘Yeah there’s really a problem here or there is not,’” said Sen. Eric Barlow R-Gillette, explaining that he wants the secretary of state to work through counties on these requests.
“Otherwise, we have a statewide election official coming into a local election office and saying, ‘Nope, this is the way we’ve got to do it,’” Barlow said.
This remark drew in an exasperated response from Secretary of State Chuck Gray in the audience.
How They’re Done
Wyoming performed its first post-election audits on a few special elections held in 2021 and ran full-scale audits from the 2022 primary and general elections with no issues reported.
Running the audits “continues to support our election integrity and our election equipment,” Lankford said.
Audits are done based on a statistically significant sample size formula developed by a University of Wyoming math and statistics professor.
Gray Weighs In
Gray said he supports the bill, but has reservations about permanently delineating a UW statistical analysis for the audit formula.
This was a relationship former Elections Division Director Kai Schon facilitated while he was on staff. Schon announced his resignation shortly after Gray won the 2022 primary.
“I certainly believe in partnering with the university on initiatives,” Gray said. “Is it going to be exclusive? Are there other folks who could weigh in? I like getting feedback from a variety of sources.”
Gray also expressed concern about what happens if UW decides it no longer wants to participate in the audits at some point.
Process Needs A Buffer
Casper resident Walt Tanner spoke in favor of involving UW, saying it reduces concerns about a secretary of state unfairly influencing an audit that may affect his or her own election.
“I feel like if someone who had a stake in the election was to figure out these audits, it creates the appearance of impropriety, if not impropriety itself,” he said.
Cheryl Aguiar, a Hot Springs County Republican committeewoman, expressed concern about the 5% guideline for ballots audited, saying that for small-population counties this would not be nearly enough ballots.
SF 153 also would bolster current procedures that require ballots be put in a locked container with a numbered seal that includes a number or other identifier that is unique to that seal.
A total of $100,000 will be disbursed to Wyoming’s 23 county clerks to initiate the election measures.
Unsolicited Absentee Ballots
The committee also passed a bill Tuesday prohibiting anyone besides a county clerk or secretary of state from distributing official absentee ballot request forms.
Senate File 131 is a response to a campaign mailer former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, sent out during her campaign last summer offering voters unsolicited absentee ballot request forms.
The mailers also included the name of each recipients’ county clerk.
Right To Deceive?
“There’s some political implications people were concerned about,” Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said, referencing county clerks who were running for reelection and concerned about being associated with Cheney.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, expressed concerns that SF 131 stifles free speech.
Cheyenne Republican representative Lynn Hutchings, who sponsored the legislation, responded that free speech doesn’t necessarily mean there’s also a right to deceive.
“When you’re giving out a document that appears to be official, there’s a little deception there,” she said. “Voters are worrying about voter integrity.”
SF 131 was amended to allow county clerks and the secretary of state to submit absentee ballot forms unsolicited.
It also was altered to allow the continued submission of unofficial absentee ballot request forms by members of the general public.
The bill passed on a 4-1 vote.
Although the committee didn’t vote on it, it also discussed a bill brought by Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, to move the deadline for when voters can change party affiliation prior to the candidate filing deadline.
Senate File 163 aims to prevent crossover voting.
“We need to decide whether we want to continue to allow Democrats to vote in Republican primaries,” Biteman said. “It was an absolute debacle what we saw in the primary. We need to end this madness.”
Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, brought an identical bill to the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee on Monday afternoon.
His bill, House Bill 103, passed after being amended to allow party affiliation changes up to 45 days before a primary election.
“At the end of the day, I understand that that bill with that amendment is still 100% better than where we’re at,” Haroldson told Cowboy State Daily. “And so is it a compromise? Yeah, it’s a compromise. Does that mean that it’s going to stay that way? I don’t know.”
Haroldson said when HB 103 is discussed on the House floor he will argue for returning the deadline to change party affiliation to an earlier date.