POWELL — Boone Tidwell and Park County locals urged county commissioners May 17 to allow him and a group of volunteers to count election ballots by hand.
A month ago every seat was filled at the Park County commissioner’s meeting room, as Tidwell advocated for hand counting election ballots after the machines had processed the votes. Commissioners decided they needed to consult the county prosecuting attorney about whether or not they had any authority to grant Tidwell’s request.
If so, what steps should they take?
“What is (being) proposed right now for counting ballots to me, and I would check with your county attorney, we do not have that authorization under current law,” Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan said. “If that is something that we want to see as a policy — and I’ve told people this in meetings — if you wanted to go all the way back to paper ballots altogether or introduce ways of counting those post election, that is a policy decision that we should take up with the Legislature and get the statutory authority to do that.”
After consulting the county prosecuting attorney, the commissioners invited Tidwell and the supporters back on May 17, where they read the report from the county attorney.
After researching the legality surrounding the proposal for a hand count of ballots within Park County during the election process, the county attorney stated that “at present throughout Wyoming, all ballots are designed to be counted by machine, thereby invoking this statute. The statute defines the law and the law simply cannot be ignored by local officials. Voting procedures in the state of Wyoming are set by the Wyoming Legislature, not local officials.”
A spokesman for the group appearing before the county commissioners on May 17 was adamant that voters have a “constitutional right” to count votes by hand to ensure election integrity.
“There’s a phenomenal amount of people in this county that are telling me they will not vote on that machine,” a spokesman said.
One concern about hand counting ballots is losing uniformity within the voting process.
The secretary of state’s office noted, “If all 23 counties had their own voting and tabulation procedures, uniformity could be lost and voter skepticism would surely ensue.”
The county attorney also found there is a legal time limit for processing ballots; results must be submitted to the secretary of state by 10:30 p.m. on election night. Voting machines provide timely results, but hand counting can take days.
However, a spokesman for the group requesting ballots be counted by hand said votes could be hand counted in a timely manner.
“We think we can count 11,000 ballots in about three hours,” a spokesman told commissioners.
He estimated 300 to 400 vote counters would need to be trained and certified.
According to the report from County attorney Bryan Skoric, “It is the responsibility of the Wyoming Legislature and the Wyoming Secretary of State to create laws and rules that promote and maintain uniform voting, vote-counting procedures and orderly voting. As such, it is not in the discretion of any Park County officials to alter or deviate from these Wyoming statutes or officially enacted rules.”
Skoric advised the commissioners they don’t have the authority to authorize a hand count of the 2022 election.
“Park County cannot turn over ballots to any individual or group to be counted manually,” Skoric said, after a question arose about whether the commission could authorize a hand recount of the 2020 election.
Election votes are “statutorily mandated to be counted by machine,” Skoric said.
“The question is really the integrity of the machines,” Commission Chairman Dossie Overfield said. “We’re at almost the level of 22 months on the 2020 election, where those ballots will be destroyed, we have a question of whether (they) could redo that as a hand count to check what happened with the machines.”
After noting the 2020 election results were completed, Overfield requested an opinion from the county attorney and secretary of state about the legality of hand counting.
“It does not look like the Park County Commissioners have the ability to allow hand counting of ballots,” Overfield said.
However, in order to answer the question of hand counting the 2020 election ballots before they are destroyed, the county attorney will have to do more research and then meet with commissioners again. A date is not set yet for the next meeting.