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Aging equipment, personnel shortage could force change in vote procedures

Sep 28, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

The vendor for Fremont County's voting machines -- and the machines of 19 other counties -- is set to end maintenance of those machines after 2020.

But as county clerks in Wyoming have lobbied the Wyoming Legislature either to appropriate money for new machines -- or approve other options -- they haven't been greeted with much enthusiasm for their ideas.

If action isn't taken, it could force counties to purchase or lease new and expensive equipment.

In 2015, legislators approved a bill that would allow county clerks to consolidate voting to a handful of "voting centers," rather than having everyone vote in a traditional precinct.

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese has so far avoided taken that step, which she said Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, urged her not to do.

But with election judges aging out of participation and precinct locations becoming harder to come by, Freese said it will be hard not to considering voting centers unless legislators take action.

Mail ballots?

The impending obsolescence of the county's current voting machines only heightens that consideration.

"We are very frustrated as clerks," Freese said.

The County Clerks Association of Wyoming asked legislators to consider mail-ballot elections multiple times. That idea has been shot down each time.

County clerks are now planning to do local surveying, Freese said, to determine which route their constituents would like them to go.

"Those messages back to our legislators should speak volumes," she said.

In essence, she said planning for the future will is based on a simple question: "How do you want to vote in Wyoming?"

Legislation

Based on the results of those surveys, Freese said clerks could begin drafting their own bill that would push for a number of options, including mail-ballot elections or funding for new voting machines.

CCAW President Gwynn Bartlett sent a letter to the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee earlier this month that "after three unsuccessful attempts to get approval from this committee to proceed with an interim study ... we have come to the reluctant conclusion this is an endeavor we may have to pursue on our own."

Bartlett said serious election woes could make Wyoming non-compliant with Federal Election Standards, "which may open the door for the (Department of Justice) to step in and oversee elections in Wyoming, increasing the cost of elections in proof of compliancy and reporting to the DOJ."

"The CCAW would like to prevent the possibility of having the election process in Wyoming at the forefront of negative publicity, much like the Florida situation in 2000 ... Remote areas have noncompliant ADA buildings for use, and it only takes one person to file a viable compliant to sent a red flag to the DOJ," she said.

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2017-10-17

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