Secretary of State Chuck Gray attended a February event on tightening voting rules hosted by conservative groups that deny the results of the 2020 presidential election.
He opted to attend this event instead of another held the same week in the same city attended by many more of his Secretary of State peers.
During the 2023 session of the Wyoming Legislature, Gray was one of the most visible faces testifying on a wide variety of topics, most relating to election reform. But there were two days during the session Gray did not appear in person.
On those days, Feb. 14-15, Gray attended The Heritage Foundation’s Secretaries of State Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference was led by three of some of the most prominent 2020 election denial groups that are advocating for tighter controls on voting.
Gray opted to attend this event instead of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) winter conference, which was Feb. 15-18, also in Washington, D.C.
The Heritage Foundation has advocated for restricting access to ballot boxes and has propagated claims that fraud is rampant in American elections. Also involved was the Honest Elections Project and Public Interest Legal Foundation.
Many of Gray’s views align with those espoused by these groups, advocating for tighter voter ID laws and other measures to increase election security. He hosted free showings of “2000 Mules” during his 2022 campaign, a movie that alleges ballot harvesting led to the 2020 election being rigged for President Joe Biden.
None of “2000 Mules” was shot in Wyoming and, according to the Heritage Foundation’s database on election fraud, there have been three cases of election fraud prosecuted in Wyoming in the last 23 years.
“The Heritage Foundation’s conference contained invaluable information related to keeping clean voter rolls, election transparency, and election integrity, which will help maintain and further election integrity in Wyoming,” Gray told Cowboy State Daily.
NASS is a nonpartisan group that, according to its website, serves as a platform for states to exchange information and collaborate on public policy issue such as elections and voting, state business services and state heritage/archives.
The February NASS conference was attended by 38 secretaries of state and more than 400 people.
Following the 2020 and 2022 elections, NASS stood behind the results of the elections.
“The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history,” NASS said in a press release shortly following the 2020 elections. “Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result.”
Gray said the NASS conference conflicted with the dates of hearings and meetings related to his office’s “legislative priorities.” A spokesperson for NASS said Gray had registered for the NASS conference but confirmed he was unable to attend.
He is listed as a member on the NASS website.
Gray is correct that many of the bills he testified on were reaching a critical juncture in the Legislature during the NASS conference. He was in Washington, D.C., when a bill changing the voter registration deadlines to prevent a practice known as crossover voting was brought back to life in the Senate after being previously defeated.
The overturn of the prior ruling and passage of the bill was one of his biggest accomplishments from the 2023 session.
“We were extremely successful in furthering our priorities, and I look forward to continuing to advance election integrity and transparency in Wyoming,” he said.
Gray testified remotely before the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee on Feb. 15. By the morning of Feb. 16, he was back at the Wyoming Capitol, testifying in person before the Senate Corporations Committee.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler said attending the NASS conference was a constant for the state’s past secretaries of state.
She served on the group’s Compliance Committee while she was the Compliance Division director for the Secretary of State’s office.
“We were very, very active in NASS,” she said.
In 2017, the Wyoming office was honored by NASS for its Administrative Rules website at its summer conference.
But Wheeler also said former secretaries of state Ed Buchanan and Ed Murray would attend the Heritage Secretaries of State Conference from time to time as well.
What Did They Talk About?
Over the course of the two-day conference, attendees discussed a wide gamut of “election integrity” ideas.
According to a private document obtained by The Guardian provided by watchdog group Documented, there were at least nine secretaries of state, Virginia’s election commissioner and 10 other election officials in attendance from 13 states, in addition to Gray.
All but one was from a state won by former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, and there were no Democratic secretaries of state there.
The conference included panels titled “Auditing Expertise,” “Mapping the Opposition: Funding Streams” and “Election Integrity Updates from the States.”
One of the speakers at the Heritage event was Ken Cuccienlli, acting deputy secretary for homeland security under former President Donald Trump.
Cuccinelli now runs the Election Transparency Initiative, which is fighting Democratic efforts in Congress to address voting rights and has been active in pushing state-level vote restriction measures.
The keynote speech was given by Ken Blackwell, former secretary of state of Ohio. Blackwell has long questioned America’s elections and was one of the few current or former election officials to echo Trump’s claims of widespread illegal voting in the 2016 election.
The Heritage event was private, and emails obtained by the Guardian showed a Heritage staff member describing it as a “confidential meeting of the secretaries,” not to be publicized in the press.
The NASS event took on a less partisan tone, holding bipartisan discussions on topics like cybersecurity, election administration, international relations, business services, state archiving and recordkeeping, and federal legislation.
NASS supports increasing legal voter turnout and ensuring non-discriminatory equal access to the election system for all voters. It has long advocated for modernizing the voting process as necessary, and asks that if future election security federal funds are discussed, Congress to receive input directly from the secretaries of state.
A group of Republicans in Park County pushed for a hand count audit of ballots from the 2020 election, an effort that was met favorably by other Republicans around the state and Gray.
NASS also supports post-election audits, a practice Gray strongly supports.
You can reach Leo Wolfson at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.