***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***
By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed a prominent election security bill supported by Secretary of State Chuck Gray on Friday.
Gordon nixed Senate File 131, which would have prohibited members of the public from sending out unsolicited mailers to voters with absentee ballot request forms. He expressed concern that SF 131 would result in “unintended consequences that would compromise election confidence and integrity.”
He said the bill seems to address a problem that he doesn’t believe exists in Wyoming.
“I want to be clear, at no time have I been presented with facts of fraud, mismanagement or malfeasance in Wyoming’s election process,” Gordon writes in his veto letter. “Even so, over the past month, I have signed those bills which strengthen election integrity and security, such as codifying existing election rules. SF 131, as delivered to my desk, is superfluous and potentially confusing.”
Gray expressed his displeasure with the veto in a press release shortly Gordon’s announcement.
“I am disappointed in and disagree with Governor Gordon’s decision to veto Senate File 131,” Gray said.
Gray said his office worked closely with the sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, as well as other members of the Legislature to ensure the best version reached the governor’s desk.
Cloud Of Doubt
Although Gray has never specifically said there was fraud in prior Wyoming elections, he has repeatedly said the state’s elections laws need to be tightened.
He also cast doubt on the security of state elections by hosting free showings of “2000 Mules” during his campaign run, a movie that relies on highly questionable evidence to claim there was widespread fraud in a number of other states’ 2020 election management.
Former congresswoman Liz Cheney was the major inspiration for SF 131. Cheney sent unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to voters during her 2022 Republican primary campaign.
One Cheney mailer included request forms for absentee ballots with “OFFICIAL ELECTION DOCUMENT ENCLOSED” emblazoned across them and pre-addressed to return to the voters’ respective county clerks.
The forms were sent in envelopes that read “OPEN IMMEDIATELY!” and “Wyoming Absentee Ballot Request Form Enclosed.”
Gordon referred to this as “a vain attempt to promote absentee voting” in his veto letter. Gray was more critical, calling it “predatory” and an “arrogant move” that hurt voter confidence and is part of a national trend of organizations sending out absentee ballot request forms in “bad faith.”
“Such an assertion of ‘official election’ material understandably could cause confusion and anger some voters,” Gordon wrote. “It is important to note, however, that at no time did this tactic put at risk the integrity or security of the Wyoming’s elections because without exception, Wyoming law obliges a qualified elector to contact their county clerk and submit the required identifying information in order to receive a ballot and vote in an election.”
Although Cheney was warned by former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan for this practice, her actions were not illegal at the time, and it won’t be considered illegal moving forward per Gordon’s veto.
Concern Of Confusion
Gordon said changes made to SF 131 throughout the legislative process muddied its language and intent.
He said he was pleased with one early amendment made to the bill clarifying it only pertained to mailers claiming to be an official election document but said certain members of the House struck this amendment while a number of others weren’t on the floor for the vote.
Gray dismissed the original amendment as “convoluted” and said it defeated the original purpose of the bill.
The later amendment was brought by state Rep. Chris Knapp, R-Gillette, on the third reading of the bill. Knapp substituted in language that read, “to any qualified elector unless that qualified elector specifically solicits an absentee ballot request form,” thus broadening the scope of materials third-party individuals can send out to voters.
“Without the benefit of the Senate’s clarifying language, the intent of the legislation has been muddled to the point where signing SF 131 as currently written could well result in unintended consequences that could compromise election confidence and integrity,” Gordon said.
Knapp said he found this determination “interesting” and noted the bill passed 54-5 shortly after the amendment was made. This means that 59 of the 62 members of the House were likely present for the amendment vote, which passed with a clear voice majority.
“I’m further perplexed by the statement that the House amendment was passed because a number of House members weren’t on the floor,” Gray told Cowboy State Daily.
The newly amended bill later passed the Senate on concurrence with a 20-10 vote.
Gordon said he also sees the bill as a potential vehicle to inappropriately suppress legal absentee voting. Knapp said it doesn’t stop people from legally voting by absentee and that the soliciting of unrequested absentee ballots is a form of ballot harvesting.
“It stops people from soliciting numerous ballots for other people because that leads to fraud,” he said.
There were no instances of ballot harvesting documented in the 2022 or 2020 Wyoming elections.
There were concerns brought up during committee discussions that SF 131 might prevent third parties from sending out a link to online absentee ballot request forms offered by a county or the state.
Rep. Martha Lawley, R-Worland, a retired attorney, told Cowboy State Daily in February if this is the way the law is interpreted, it could be unconstitutional. Lawley still voted to support the bill, along with 53 of her state House colleagues.
In recent weeks, Gordon has signed bills that requires voters to show a form of identification to obtain an absentee ballot, allow residents to use a concealed carry permit as a form of acceptable identification to vote, codify federal certification of the state’s election equipment, and legislation requiring political action committees participating in Wyoming elections to register with the state.
Gordon also signed legislation that reduces the early voting period in Wyoming and let a bill pass into law without his signature that moves back the deadline for voters to change party affiliation by about three months, prior to the candidate filing period.
Gordon still hasn’t taken action on three high-profile bills that passed during the 2023 legislative session: a ban on most forms of abortion, the prescription of drugs used for abortions and legislation that would prevent transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in Wyoming.
Earlier in the day Friday, Gordon signed legislation that restores gun and other civil rights for non-violent felons five years after their sentences are complete.
He also signed House Bill 0222, which establishes a Colorado River Advisory Committee. This committee will help inform the State Engineer’s Office and the governor by continuing the work of the governor’s Colorado River Working Group.
***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***