Rod Miller: A Better Mousetrap for Wyoming’s Flawed Election Code

Columnist Rod Miller writes, "A recent vacancy in the Sheridan County Commission set the wheels in motion for the Republican Party to once again behave like a dysfunctional HOA in a gated community full of rednecks."

Rod Miller

September 03, 20234 min read

Rod miller headshot scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

If anyone needed further convincing that the workings of government in Wyoming are too bound up in partisan politics, the Sheridan County GOP just offered reason # 137. Here’s the skinny.

A recent vacancy in the Sheridan County Commission set the wheels in motion for the Republican Party to once again behave like a dysfunctional HOA in a gated community full of rednecks. Under state statute, such a vacancy triggers a process in which the party of the departed commissioner nominates three candidates and the remaining commissioners choose from them to fill the vacant seat.

When the Sheridan County GOP sent up the names of three candidates who had all lost recent elections, the four remaining commissioners considered every proposed candidate to be “unqualified” to sit on the commission. 

They couldn’t agree on a lesser of three evils so they punted the decision to a judge to make the selection. 

Naturally, the County Commissioners’ refusal to endorse the party slate gave the Sheridan County GOP a case of the vapors and the party threw a hissy fit. The party claimed correctly that Wyoming statutes mandate the commission to select one of their three candidates.

This is just one example of how our election code favors the political power of the parties over that of the citizens of Wyoming. In too many areas of political life in the Cowboy State, our statutes grant a built-in advantage to private political organizations, thus giving them the bulge over the voice of the people as expressed in the voting booth.

As evidence, witness the gnarly and failed tenure of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Brian Schroeder. He was one of three candidates advanced by the GOP to fill the vacancy left when Jillian Ballow departed for greener pastures.

Schroeder was endorsed by Trump and appointed by Governor Gordon. The whole process was done according to Wyoming statute.

Then, while in office, Schroeder played fast and loose with public money when he organized a hyper-partisan rally to “save the children” using state funds. He got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and is still embroiled in litigation over that fiasco.

So, filling vacancies in elective office by doing things by the book doesn’t always yield good fruit.

There has to be a better way, friends and neighbors! We need to change the book and build a better mousetrap.

How about something like this? We amend or repeal statutes in our election code that vest too much power in private political organizations and return that power to where it belongs – to the voters of Wyoming.

In the case of a county commission vacancy, our current code allows for a forty-day window for the party to nominate candidates and the commission to select a replacement. Why not use that time to conduct a special election and let the voters decide the replacement?

If the county’s business is so pressing during that interim, another official with a county-wide election certificate – like the sheriff or the clerk – can be delegated the temporary authority to act as a commissioner for the purpose of breaking a tie vote.

I’ll bet a dollar to a donut that we Wyomingites can simply and improve our electoral process if put our noggins to it. 

There must be a better way of making these crucial decisions than leaving them to private organizations that are little different than an Elks Club or a bowling league, and who can’t even conduct their own conventions without craziness and fistfights.

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist