Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Devereaux Johnson brings ballots to the Sheridan County Courthouse Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.

SHERIDAN — Participants in a recent panel discussion expressed confidence in Wyoming’s election system while discussing ways America’s system can improve, alluding to the idea that democracy is an ongoing process always striving to be better.

Amber McReynolds, chief executive officer for the National Vote at Home Institute, indicated that officials should seek to make elections FASTER — fair, accurate, secure, transparent, equitably and reliable.

“All of those values matter equally,” McReynolds said. “And election officials…have to balance all of those values.”

Oftentimes, she said, policy makers propose bills that don’t balance all of those values, sacrificing one for the other.

Sean Morales-Doyle said trends in legislation around voter accessibility depend on where you live.

“I think the rhetoric around our most recent election, the attention paid and the passion around it — we’re seeing that now manifest in legislation in state legislatures, but really depending on where you are in the country that looks very different,” said Morales-Doyle, who serves as the deputy director for voting rights and elections in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

He added that his organization has seen more than four times the number of bills to restrict voter access than was seen at the same time in 2020.

Equality State Policy Center Executive Director Chris Merrill, who moderated the discussion Thursday, asked participants in the discussion to voice their opinions even on how he framed the discussion, which was entitled “Election Integrity in Wyoming: The Stubborn Myth of Voter Fraud.”

Morales-Doyle said the issue with widespread claims of voter fraud is that they cause policy makers to focus more on certain aspects of the FASTER election acronym than others, throwing the system off balance.

“There are ways our democracy can do better, there are ways where we fall down, but more often where our democracy is failing is in providing people an opportunity to cast a ballot, ensuring their ballots are going to count and making it easier for them to do that,” Morales-Doyle said.

He and others on the panel didn’t dismiss the fact that opportunities for fraud do exist, but most noted that those have been accounted for in the system.

Crook County Clerk Linda cited an example of a felon illegally registering to vote at the polls, saying those registrations aren’t added to the system until 15-30 days after the election, after ballots are mingled with others. The best way to handle those circumstances, she said, is prosecution, which would serve as a deterrent.

Fritz also explained security steps election processes in Wyoming include, such as testing ballot machines, securing those machines and election judges from both major political parties who work in different parts of the process.  

“So for fraud to be rampant, you would have to have major collusion from multiple parties, at least in the state of Wyoming,” Fritz said, “and I just don’t think there are that many people who are willing to do that.”

McReynolds also noted that fraud cases are exceedingly low in the U.S., according to multiple sources that put the percentage of fraudulent ballots at less than 0.001%.

“The bigger problem we have in the United States is nonvoters and apathy,” McReynolds said. “I think what people often forget is that about 80 million people did not participate in the most anticipated election of our time.”

She went on to say the reasons typically center individuals’ feeling that the government doesn’t listen to them, disengagement, disaffection or the feeling that their vote doesn’t matter.

“Those are the numbers that are massive in scale,” McReynolds said, comparing the number of people who don’t vote to the number of cases of proven voter fraud.

In the Wyoming Legislature, more than 40 representatives and 15 senators have signed on as sponsors of House Bill 75 put forward by Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper. The bill, if passed, would put a voter identification law into place in Wyoming. Gray has pitched voter ID legislation in the past, but those efforts have failed, in part, because they required a current and valid photo ID.

This year’s bill, though, allows for alternative forms of voter identification, including driver’s licenses, tribal identification, a U.S. military card, a valid U.S. passport or even a Medicare insurance card.

Fritz said she didn’t believe the requirement would prove to be a burden on voters as the kinds of identification being accepted mimic those utilized by clerks offices across the state who register individuals to vote.

The bill has been introduced and referred to the House Corporations Committee meeting this week. HB75 is on the list to be heard at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Kristen Czaban has worked with The Sheridan Press since June 2008, moving to Wyoming after graduating from Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She covered a wide range of beats before becoming editor in 2012 and publisher in 2017.

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