Clerk wants feedback on voting equipment

Nov 15, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Secretary of State Ed Murray announced Monday he has established a task force to "explore the type of election equipment needed in Wyoming and the means of funding the replacement of outdated equipment."

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese said she's been drafting survey materials that can be taken to town hall meeting this winter to gauge voters' preferences on how to move forward on the issue.

It will be important, she said, for the County Clerks Association of Wyoming to "move together as one voice."

Freese plans to hold five town hall meetings on electoral options, with events in Riverton, Lander, Shoshoni and Dubois and on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Mail ballots

Based on time constraints, she said it seems unlikely that there would be a bill approving mail-ballot elections that would be ready for the 2018 Legislative session.

Despite the concerns that legislators have voiced on voter fraud, Freese said mail-ballot elections carry no greater risks than absentee voting.

"There are some really good things from other states that we could be doing," she said.

The possibility of mail-ballot elections, she said, also carry some benefits for voters -- like increased flexibility.

"People want to do things at their own speed and on their own time," she said."Hopefully our legislators listen to their constituents."

Freese isn't the only clerk promoting mail-ballot elections: According to a recent report by the Cody Enterprise, the CCAW has proposed changes involving a transition to the process as well. And in September of 2016, the Enterprise reported, Park County deputy clerk Hans Odde was part of a CCAW delegation that visited a mail ballot processing center in Colorado; following the visit, he said 20 of Wyoming's 23 county clerks supported moving to a mail ballot system.

Clerks estimate that, had the 2016 election been a mail ballot one, the cost would have been roughly $453,000 - a 46 percent savings, the Enterprise said, and there would be no need in 2019 to upgrade much of the current equipment.

In a mail ballot system, the report states, each county would operate at least one traditional polling place on election day, but votes would largely be cast by mail, with each registered voter in the state mailed a paper ballot to fill out and drop off at secure collection centers for processing; ballots could also be postmarked.

Task force members

Murray's task force includes Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, Wyoming Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, Wyoming Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, and Wyoming Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne.

Zwonitzer and Case co-chair the legislature's Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, which the CCAW approached three times last year to suggest exploring a mail-ballot system as a cost-saving alternative to buying new equipment, the Enterprise said; on every occasion, the officials, who are charged with overseeing elections statewide, were rebuffed.

"I think it was too new of an issue for Wyoming," Zwonitzer said. "Most people thought Wyoming wasn't ready, and there were concerns there could be fraud."

He did not offer support for mail ballots, according to the report, and he said many of the most adamant opponents to a switch came from rural districts.

Case told the Enterprise he supported the move personally, but that "it's the committee vote that counts;" he also said fraud concerns had been raised in JCEPSC meetings, but that some opposition may be rooted in deeper issues.

"I think there is an undercurrent that it shouldn't be so easy to participate in elections," Case said. "[Legislators in opposition] are worried that if you make it too easy, people who aren't very knowledgeable about issues will just fill out ballots [without consideration]."

Case and Zwonitzer weren't the only people on the committee to voice opposition.

"Maybe you don't need to be [voting] if you're too lazy or feel like it's not important enough to vote," said Wyoming Rep. Roy Edwards, R-Gillette.

In an interview with the Enterprise, he called traveling to polling places and setting aside time to cast a ballot a way to "help weed out" uninformed voters; he also said he feared U.S. Postal Service workers would fail to deliver ballots to certain voters in an effort to swing an election.

Print Story
Read The Lander Journal...