Effort To Allow Chuck Gray To Disqualify Election Equipment Fails

A discussion about certifying federal election equipment Monday became more a debate about Secretary of State Chuck Gray and what his office should and should not have authority to do.

Leo Wolfson

February 14, 20236 min read

Chuck Gray 4
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A debate about certifying election equipment in the Wyoming State Senate on Monday diverted into a discussion about the powers Secretary of State Chuck Gray has and whether a bill had been drafted to strip the office of them.

“Seeing this trend of stripping duties of one of the top five electeds just because we don’t like their politics is a bad look for the state of Wyoming,” said Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester. “It’s happened before and it’s happening again, and it’s just wrong.”

Biteman has been aligned with Gray in the past and shares a similar political ideology to many members of the far-right conservative Wyoming Freedom Caucus, of which Gray is a former member.

Rogue Actor?

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, voiced concerns that Gray – or other future secretaries of state – could deny the use of election equipment shortly before an election, causing a state of “chaos” in their wake.

House Bill 47 clarifies the state’s procedures for managing the certification of election equipment incorporates already-used rules by the Secretary of State’s office. The rules are not written into or can override current state statute. 

Wyoming county clerks now follow state law and are considered managers of their own election equipment. 

If passed as originally amended, House Bill 47 would have given the secretary of state power to make decisions about the reliability of a county’s election equipment without the approval of local county clerks.

An amendment was added to the bill in the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee that gave Gray and future secretaries of state the power to exempt voting equipment from use if a vendor rejected a request to submit their systems for re-examination. 

It also gave his office power to override some county-level election decisions if a vendor or its employees were determined to be “problematic” in ensuring an election can be run fairly. 

Gray Wanted It

The amendment was added originally at the request of Gray and his staff, then was stripped from the bill last week by the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, said he spoke with all 23 county clerks over the weekend, who all said they oppose the secretary of state having that authority over their local election equipment. 

On Monday, Biteman proposed adding the amendment back into the bill, which was rejected by the Senate on a 19-12 vote.

“If this is going to be a codification of current rules, why are we going to leave out the current rules?” Biteman questioned. “We don’t like the particular secretary of state; OK, I get that. We don’t trust him, I get that. 

“But these are current rules, they’ve never gone rogue before. I think this is kind of a fear tactic.” 

Case, who chairs the Senate Corporations Committee, was vehemently opposed to the highly debated amendment.

“The proposed amendment …  would allow one person to throw into question all of these pieces of equipment in the state,” Case said. “We could think of the chaos that would ensue if that power was ever used irresponsibly.”

Anti-Gray Politics?

Case backed Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, in her losing Republican primary campaign against Gray in 2022 and then ran a short-lived campaign to find a candidate to run against Gray in the general election. 

Nethercott balked at the idea that HB 47 was drafted to weaken Gray’s powers, whose main campaign issue was election security.

“That is an absolute mischaracterization of this bill draft, absolute mischaracterization,” she said. “This bill does nothing of the sort.”

Gray’s Focus On Elections

Gray ran on a campaign promise to improve election security and integrity in Wyoming. 

He questioned the reliability of ballot drop boxes and hosted free showings of the “2000 Mules” movie, a film that relies on highly questionable evidence to argue that the 2020 election was rigged through ballot harvesting.

There has never been a case of ballot harvesting brought in Wyoming. Further, the Wyoming Republican Party recruited poll watchers around the state to supervise the 2022 primary and general elections, with no issues reported. 

“There were a lot of allegations about our last election, Mr. President, none of which were out for Wyoming,” Case said. “It is unfathomable to me that we would allow one individual to be able to throw our election into chaos by questioning this equipment on really no grounds whatsoever.”

Not About Gray

Others like Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, stressed that the original bill as written had nothing to do with Gray and was meant to support local governments.

“This whole idea that we need to centralize things, we’ve got to look in the mirror,” Landen said. “The idea that this is some kind of a vendetta against one individual is ridiculous.” 

HB 47 passed with a 24-7 vote on its third reading of the Senate. All that remains for the bill before it can head to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk to be signed into law or vetoed is final approval on changes made in the House. 

But agreement on the Senate’s revisions may be a legitimate hurdle for the bill as HB 47 passed through the House on a 33-27-2 vote that had Gray’s amendment. It’s unclear how it will fare without it.

Another amendment was brought by Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, to give the State Canvassing Board power to disqualify equipment. The Canvassing Board is made up of the secretary of state and four of the five other statewide elected officials. 

This amendment was met with little support and was voted down 26-5. 

Share this article



Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter