With the 2024 elections coming up fast in Wyoming, a group of Park County residents and a local state senator are reviving an effort there to replace electronic vote tabulators with the human hand-counts.
State Sen. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and a group of other county Republicans petitioned the Park County commissioners this week to consider hand-counting ballots in the upcoming elections instead of using electronic voting machines.
Even Secretary of State Chuck Gray, who is responsible for overseeing the state’s elections, weighed in on the matter via Zoom at the Tuesday commission meeting, expressing support for the proposal.
This is a different stance than the position taken by former Secretary of State Ed Buhanan, who in April 2022 addressed the idea of hand-counted ballots in Park County, saying he did not believe election officials or volunteers have the legal right to do it.
Laursen said their presentation and Gray’s support wasn’t enough to trigger much enthusiasm for hand counts from commissioners.
“They weren’t real excited,” he said.
Proposal Died Before
The Park County commissioners rejected a similar proposal in 2022 to hand count both the results of that election and the 2020 election to verify or disprove their integrity.
The rejection came after Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill weighed in and said that state law that dictates all elections, past and present, must be counted by a designated machine, which was consistent with an earlier position taken by Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric.
Hill also mentioned that the Wyoming Constitution makes secrecy of the ballot compulsory, so ballots may not be turned over to any outside person or group.
Laursen and his hand count supporters disagree, but now are proposing that trained election judges be the ones who count the ballots. This would likely require a major increase in the number of election judges who volunteer to return the election results in a reasonably timely manner.
He also points to state laws that refer to the use of counting boards for paper ballots. These laws may have been created prior to 1957, when the Wyoming Legislature authorized the use of automated voting machines.
Malcom Ervin, president of the Wyoming County Clerks Association and the Platte County clerk, said local counting boards are already used to verify election results.
More Or Less Confidence?
The whole purpose of the proposal is to give residents more confidence in elections, Laursen said.
“People don’t trust the machines,” Laursen said. “People are asking what’s the point of voting in elections? This would give them some faith.”
Ervin also tuned into Tuesday’s meeting remotely, and said he has concerns that initiating a hand count could have an opposite effect, calling the proposal “detrimental at best.”
“This could have serious ramifications for the 2024 election,” he said. “It’s so short-sighted.”
After former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss, Trump’s claims that the results were fraudulent raised mass skepticism among many Republicans about electronic voting machines.
All the votes in Park County are cast by paper ballot and the machines that read them have no mechanism to connect to the internet.
Laursen said a recent survey his group solicited from members of the Park County Republican Party and the public at-large showed overwhelming support for their proposal. He wants the commissioners to perform a similar survey.
“It might make them think twice,” he said.
Commissioner Chairman Dossie Overfield opposes the proposal as she believes election machines can be trusted and that the people she’s spoken with feel the same way.
She said her county’s election department favors continuing to use their election equipment.
“I don’t see us moving away from the tabulators,” she said.
According to the Powell Tribune, Commissioner Lee Livingston proposed a compromise at the meeting to randomly pick a precinct, and after the results are electronically tabulated by machines, hand-count those ballots.
One of the biggest concerns expressed by people opposing the proposal is the amount of time it will take to hand count the ballots.
Under the proposal, a team of three counters would scrutinize each ballot.
Laursen’s group has determined that each team of three can count each ballot in 31 seconds.
At this rate, it would take a group of 50 counters more than eight and a half hours to count 16,815 ballots, which was how many were cast in the last presidential election in Park County in 2020. Getting 50 counters or more may be a doable task in larger counties, but in smaller counties this could be a stretch, and result in long delays between when the polls close and preliminary results are delivered.
From the time that polls close at 7 p.m. on election night, counties in Wyoming are instructed to start counting ballots and deliver their preliminary results to the state by no later than 10:30 p.m.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Gray dismissed this deadline as negotiable and said counties often don’t return results until after then.
Counties also must deliver their final certified results to the state’s canvassing board by the end of the business day on the Friday after the election.
A hand count election, Ervin said, could cause some smaller counties to have to shut down all of their operations for multiple days in order to count all the votes.
What Could Happen?
Ervin has a number of concerns about the proposal.
Besides the establishment of counting boards, he said state law lacks in any detail about how to run hand count elections, and no exact mechanism exists for resolving disputes that could arise among the counters about who or what a voter intended to vote for.
Hand counting ballots is not a completely unheard-of practice, with many rural jurisdictions in New Hampshire, Maine and Wisconsin using it rather than machines.
Some countries like France use hand counting for their elections, but in France, which has one-fifth the population of the U.S., they only count for their presidential race.
In America and Wyoming, there are usually at least 20 ballot questions for every election.
Overfield said the commissioners will try to make a decision by late March so that people signing up to be election judges know what they’re getting themselves into.
Ervin said there have been a handful of similar proposals made around the state in counties such as Sweetwater and Platte. On Saturday, the Wyoming Republican Party will consider a resolution urging the state to adopt hand counting ballots across Wyoming.
Laursen believes that if Park County initiates the hand count, it will spur other counties to follow suit.
Ervin worries this would set a dangerous precedent for Wyoming. He encourages people with concerns about election security to volunteer as election judges.
“If you want to increase your confidence in our election systems, which we maintain is accurate, we encourage you to volunteer to ensure it is accurate,” he said.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.