By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
The 2022 election season opened in Wyoming on Friday with the commencement of absentee and early voting across the state.
Thousands of ballots were mailed out to voters throughout the state while many other ballots were cast in person by voters at their local county courthouses.
The 2020 election was a year defined by record absentee and early voting turnout. After opening day Friday, a small collection of data shows this trend may be continuing.
“It may well be a trend,” said Laramie County Clerk Debra Lee. “A lot of people weren’t aware they could request an absentee ballot.”
In Laramie County, 1,844 absentee ballots were requested as of Friday. Although there were nearly 9,000 requested in 2020, Lee said only around 700 were requested during the last non-presidential year in 2018.
The same goes for opening day early voting, as 158 people cast their vote in her offices Friday, compared to the 103 who did so in 2018.
“We had more than we anticipated,” Lee said. “It’s been steady all day.”
To request an absentee ballot, voters must contact their local elections offices. The ballots can be picked up in person or can be mailed.
The mailing date for absentee ballots complies with the statutory deadline to mail the ballots 45 days prior to the election.
Absentee voting allows residents who are living overseas, are in the military, those who will be out of town the day of the election, or those who do not feel comfortable voting in person to cast their vote. These ballots can be mailed back to the office or brought back in person.
Any registered voter may request an absentee ballot in person, by phone or email any day prior to the day of the election, but Kaitlyn Johnson, a staff member in the Park County Elections department, advises planning ahead as these ballots will not be accepted after 7 p.m. election night. The primary election is on Aug. 16 and the general election is on Nov. 8.
To register, a photo ID and proof address are required.
Early voting is different from absentee voting in that it is a process where people cast their votes inside their county election offices. Johnson said about a dozen people came into her office on Friday to cast their early ballots.
“People should take advantage of the many ways of voting in Wyoming,” Johnson said.
Johnson said more people have requested absentee ballots — 752 since January — than have cast early votes.
Still, this number pales in comparison to requests made for absentee ballots made in 2020, a record year for absentee ballots nationwide due to COVID-19 concerns.
“2020 was an anomaly,” Lee said.
On Thursday, Fremont County performed its biennial test of its election equipment. The test was run by county clerk Julie Freese and her staff, joined by Fremont County Republican Chairman Ginger Bennett, Republican Party representatives and a Fremont County Democrat party representative.
The staff prepared a selection of ballots for each precinct and each race. These ballots were fed through the vote tabulator in the presence of the witnesses.
“Every conceivable malfunction of the machine was tested,” Bennett said.
The numbers were tabulated, and all parties agreed the totals matched numbers prepared by the clerk’s office prior to the process, Bennett said.
Once this confirmation was made, the machines were set back to zero and locked.
“This process will be completed for each machine used in the 2022 Election cycle to assure that the vote tabulation prepared by the county clerk is an accurate reflection of the votes cast by people voting in Fremont County,” Bennett said.
Higher Than Average
Lee said aside from 2020, early voting turnout Friday was higher than the historical average.
Ballot boxes placed outside government offices to collect early votes have become a controversial topic following the 2020 election because of the movie “2000 Mules” movie, which alleged similar ballot boxes around the country were compromised by ballot stuffers.
Johnson said Park County is not planning to put these boxes outside the courthouse as it did in 2020, while Laramie County will place its boxes outside.
“They are fixed in concrete and bolted to the concrete,” Lee said.`