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Election equipment

Nov 19, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

At the very time election procedures, election participation and, to an extent, election outcomes are under scrutiny because of voting procedures, those procedures in Wyoming are in a bit of trouble.

It stems from the aging and outmoded voting equipment used in Wyoming's elections. Wyoming's county clerks, the public officials who run elections, say the equipment increasingly is in disrepair. That can cast into doubt not just election efficiency, but reliability.

Count Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese among this group. For a while now she has been talking about the aging and deteriorating condition of the ballot-scanning machines, which are the foundation of tabulating votes in local elections.

They are at or near the end of their productive "life span," and they need to be replaced. The same is true across the state, which has 22 other counties.

A question accompanying this necessity is whether the equipment ought to be replaced with something similar, or something different. Beyond that, the necessary update in voting equipment is touted by some as an opportunity to adopt elections by mail.

Under that system, a certified ballot would be mailed to all registered voters. Each voter would fill it out at home, drop it in the mailbox, and the county clerk of that voter's county would calculate the mail-in ballots.

Julie Freese is not exactly a crusader for mail-in elections, but she has analyzed the process and sees some potential advantages for Fremont County and Wyoming. Some other states have adopted it already, and it inevitably emerges as a topic in circumstances such as ours, when existing election equipment becomes an issue.

But it is a controversial subject as well. In Wyoming, it would require legislation to make the conversion, and there are some prominent legislators who are against the idea. Voters have strong, differing opinions as well.

At the state level, Wyoming Secretary of state Ed Murray is soliciting formal input on the pros and cons of mail balloting. In Fremont County the clerk is organizing five town-hall meetings in the coming months to hear local opinion.

Our elections are largely centralized, election-day processes, with rows of voting booths, and tables manned by election officials. Obviously, changing state law to convert to a vote-by-mail procedure would require a good bit of study, public education, legislative committee work and floor debate before becoming law.

It looks as if the idea will get a fair hearing. At the moment there is not a strong legislative drive for it -- but that could change due to Wyoming's tightened fiscal profile. With every dollar under unprecedented scrutiny, mail elections could gain popularity with legislators rapidly if the lawmakers determine it could be done less expensively.

But that mustn't be only consideration.

Wyoming, long one of the highest voter-turnout states in the nation, has seen that participation shrink over the past 20 years -- a sad and dangerous development for democratic government. Whatever decision the authorities come to, its basis ought to be devising, providing and maintaining a good election system which promotes voter interest voter confidence and, above all, voter turnout. That's well worth paying for.

So, our county clerks are getting organized on the issue. Some favor mail-in ballots more than others, but their larger point to the state is a simpler one: Either tell us to convert to mail ballots, or provide the money to update the voting equipment for traditional elections.

One way or the other, let's get to the point.

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