A Buffalo woman says she was intimidated by a poll worker when she went to vote in 2021.
As a result, the Wyoming Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee will discuss voter intimidation and poll watchers when it meets Thursday in Douglas.
What Happened To Burns?
Buffalo resident Dana Burns told the committee in May her story of being harassed and intimidated by a poll worker while attempting to vote.
She said the poll worker was Mike Madden, a former state lawmaker, current Buffalo City Council member and chairman of the Johnson County Republican Party.
Burns said Madden asked her a “hot-button political question” while she was trying to vote after already having asked her the same question in public. She told Cowboy State Daily that Madden questioned her about wearing a facemask.
“It made me uncomfortable, and I didn’t realize until telling my mother I didn’t want to go vote in person that I had indeed been intimidated,” Burns told the committee.
Madden told Cowboy State Daily he has no recollection of this interaction and hadn’t worked as an election judge in Burns’ precinct for four years.
“2020 was a big year with the COVID scare, so many many voters had masks on,” Madden said. “I certainly don't remember asking her or any of the other voters anything like that. Sometimes Dana gets confused over things and this could have been an example of that.”
‘Just As Damning’
Burns said the Johnson County investigation into her claim of voter intimidation ended up being “just as damning as the intimidation and the harassment.”
The Johnson County clerk and attorney both concluded Burns had not been intimidated. Burns said she wasn’t interviewed by either and was ignored when she tried to talk to them and her local state legislators about it.
“Two people decided I was not intimidated or harassed,” Burns said. “I know I was.”
When she contacted Johnson County Attorney Tucker Ruby, Burns said he told her he didn’t view Madden’s question as harassment.
Burns believes their lack of response and Madden’s actions were gender discrimination, which she believes is engrained in Wyoming culture.
“Ultimately, it doesn’t surprise me,” Burns said. “Because, that’s how you treat women in Wyoming.”
Burns said she was recently told by the Secretary of State’s office that it’s looking into what happened.
This isn’t the first time Burns has filed a formal complaint related to gender discrimination.
According to the Gillette News Record, in 2018 she filed a complaint against then-state Rep. Bill Pownall, a Campbell County Republican and former sheriff, alleging he treated her with gender bias during a legislative committee meeting.
Burns said she approached the Corporations Committee with her story because she knew she wouldn’t be ignored. She urged the committee enacting a timely and transparent process for voter intimidation complaints, something the committee is now considering.
Wyoming doesn’t track data on election harassment, intimidation and suppression complaints from county to county, a reporting mechanism Burns wants implemented.
“There is no process, there’s no checks and balances,” she said.
She pointed Cowboy State Daily to a similar experience shared by Sheridan resident Sherry Daniels Laughton, who said she had difficulty with a poll watcher in 2020.
In Wyoming, poll watchers can only observe voter turnout, voting machines and voter registration, and are not allowed to have any direct interaction with the voters.
Last year, the Wyoming Republican Party fully trained 203 volunteers for poll watching. The volunteers observed the early processing and preparation of mail-in absentee ballots and the tabulation of those ballots on Election Day.
During Thursday’s meeting, the committee will discuss a memo drafted by the Legislative Service Office comparing Wyoming’s poll watching and voter intimidation laws to other states.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, co-chair of the Corporations Committee, said he’s not sure if legislation will be drafted to address voter intimidation in Wyoming and views the discussion as more of a fact-finding mission.
Case said Wyoming’s laws on voter intimidation are a bit more relaxed than other states.
In Wyoming, poll watchers must be a member of the political party they represent and a registered voter in their county, a requirement generally shared throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
Unlike in Wyoming, poll watchers in Colorado can be removed if they are found to have committed fraud or abusing or threatening election officials or voters.
In Montana, a poll watcher can’t be a candidate on a ballot. In Nebraska, not only is a candidate ineligible to serve as a poll watcher, but so is a spouse. There are no restrictions on a candidate’s eligibility to serve as a poll watcher in Wyoming.
While Wyoming may be lax on regulations for poll watchers, it’s the only state in the immediate region that treats voter intimidation as a felony. Those found guilty of voter intimidation in Wyoming can be sentenced to up to five years in prison and fined up to $10,000.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.