By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — A bill to open up Wyoming to mail-in ballot elections failed to gain any traction against a headwind of concerns about voter fraud and uninformed voters having an easier time participating in the system.
House Bill 36 would have allowed county commissioners to choose to run state and federal elections through a mail-in ballot system. It failed on a 4-3 vote Thursday in the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, with Reps. Aaron Clausen, R-Douglas; Dan Furphy, R-Laramie; and Chairman Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, voting in favor. Two freshman members were excused from the meeting and didn't enter a proxy vote.
The effort to get a bill before the Legislature was spearheaded by the Wyoming County Clerks Association due to the looming high cost of replacing election equipment and the difficulty in hiring election judges across the state.
Horror stories in the news made some balk at allowing mail-in ballots. Rep. Roy Edwards, R-Gillette, mentioned issues with signature verification in Broward County, Florida, during the 2018 election, and worried Wyoming would open itself up to lawsuits, along with major potential for voter fraud.
(In the states that have moved to all mail-in ballot elections - Colorado, Washington and Oregon - there have been few recorded instances of voter fraud.)
Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, said mail-in ballot elections would lower the bar for voting, and he wanted to require voters to take the initiative to participate.
"There's pros and cons to (voter participation). On the one hand, you may get more voter participation. On the other hand, who is participating? Is it people that don't know anything about anything and aren't responsible voters to begin with?" Clem said. "Along with the right of voting comes the responsibility of studying the candidates and knowing who you're going to vote for, and actually doing something yourself and taking the initiatives. This limits the initiative because everything is done for you."
Chris Merrill, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, which supported the bill, said allowing voters more time with the ballot in their hand made for more informed voters.
"Not only is the implication of (Clem's) comment offensive and un-democratic, it's also completely wrong," Merrill said. "Mail ballots would also help elderly voters, people who work long hours and/or multiple jobs, people who are in poor health or who must rely on others for transportation, people who have trouble getting around, (and) health-care and emergency workers, who regularly work unpredictable hours."
Lindholm tried to sway committee members to support the bill, to no avail. He cited statistics that showed one of the biggest demographic segments to benefit from mail-in ballots was older white conservatives, who participated in elections at a significantly higher rate than without that option.
Carbon County Clerk Gwynn Bartlett said she and the other county clerks would work hard to educate lawmakers and citizens about the benefits of mail-in ballot elections and the safety built into the system.
One point she made during her presentation to the committee is that about 30 percent of votes cast in 2018 were made with an absentee ballot. A mail-in ballot system would put in a higher level of security, including verifying a voter signature on every ballot.
The committee unanimously approved the election readiness account bill, House Bill 21, which would set aside $15 million for equipment upgrades and other necessary election investments for county clerks.