Secretary of State Chuck Gray isn’t buying the “this doesn’t happen here” argument when it comes to election interference in Wyoming.
He says Wyomingites “should remain ever vigilant as these partisan tactics have spread across the country at an alarming rate, and affected similarly situated states in evolving ways.”
Gray said as secretary of state, it’s his duty to warn county clerks about it.
He delivered this message in a letter sent to Wyoming’s 23 county clerks late last week, cautioning them from accepting help from third parties to fund election administration in Wyoming.
Malcolm Ervin, president of the Wyoming County Clerks Association, said he knew the letter from Gray was coming ahead of time, although he’s not aware of any incident even closely resembling third-party interference in Wyoming elections.
“This has not been an issue in Wyoming,” he said. “They just want to make sure it doesn’t become one.”
Although Gray offered many examples of outside groups around the nation funneling money into the 2020 and 2022 elections, he offered no specific Wyoming instances.
The closest example he could provide was the support and lobbying a few national groups gave in support of a 2023 Legislature bill that would have initiated a ranked-choice voting pilot program in Wyoming. Gray opposed the bill, citing logistical and practical concerns with ranked-choice voting.
Many staunch conservatives in Wyoming have opposed the idea of ranked-choice voting, arguing that it allows more moderate candidates to win. Alternatively, many have supported runoff elections.
Ervin said he wouldn’t expect third-party funding attempts in Wyoming, but also couldn’t definitively say it won’t happen.
“It always has the potential, but I don’t necessarily think anybody’s going to be looking at Wyoming as the place to invest that kind of money,” he said.
The U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence is a coalition of left-leaning election reform nonprofits created in 2022 as an initiative of the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group heavily funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2020, who gave CTCL $350 million to the organization. Shortly after Zuckerberg said he would no longer fund public election offices in the future, the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence was launched in early 2022.
The purpose of the donation was to fund thousands of local elections offices in the form of COVID-19 “relief grants.” Critics have alleged that CTCL’s “Zuck Bucks” more closely resembled get-out-the-vote efforts targeted at Democratic counties and cities in key battleground states such as Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Ervin said many of these efforts weren’t likely made with nefarious intentions, but that doesn’t mean there weren't some bad apples in the mix.
“The path to hell is paved with good intentions,” he said.
Gray said some of the group’s grants also came with strings attached, such as “the divulgence of elections operations, sharing information” and “improvement plans” aimed at structural change in what he describes as an attempt to “strongarm” election administration.
Election offices that show sufficient “commitment” to improving will be certified as “U.S. Centers for Election Excellence” and receive support for at least two years. This support comes in the form of grants, trainings, resources and consulting services in an effort to “develop a set of shared standards and values” in election offices across the country.
“In this way, the recent and widespread influx of private funding of elections on a massive scale showcased the potential risk of undue influence and partisanship associated with utilizing private money to administer elections,” Gray said.
In early 2022, Zuckerberg said he would no longer fund local public election offices. Shortly after, the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence was launched.
A 2021 Time Magazine story outlines how nonprofit groups and corporations worked together to get a large voter turnout for the 2020 election and fight what they deemed misinformation about the election.
Gray said 25 states, including Utah, have since banned or restricted “Zuck Bucks,” and Influencewatch.org said several watchdog groups and conservative organizations have begun investigations into CTCL.
Although the Wyoming Legislature earlier this year considered a bill that would have prohibited private funding of elections, it died without being considered by a committee. A similar bill had been supported by former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan in the past.
“I find it deeply disturbing that private entities have been working to influence election administration nationwide, and could also be used as a conduit for foreign actors to improperly influence American election administration,” Gray told Cowboy State Daily. “I am also disturbed that Wyoming remains especially vulnerable given our lack of a statutory ban on private funding of elections.”
Gray said he asked the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee to draft new legislation on the matter. He said a draft bill will be considered at the committee’s meeting Aug. 24.
“It is also very important that Wyoming take action to statutorily ban private funding of election administration,” he said, imploring people to notify him if any third party solicits county clerks about funding their election efforts so he can launch an investigation.
‘Conduit For Foreign Actors’
Gray described the Alliance as “the latest attempt for third parties to influence election administration” and said it could be “used as a conduit for foreign actors to improperly influence American election administration.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.