Officials face growing pressure to audit Wyo elections
WYOMING – Wyoming officials are facing mounting pressure to audit the 2020 election from pro-Trump activists asserting, without evidence, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the former president through widespread voter fraud.
Activists across the state have flooded state lawmakers’ inboxes and voicemails with demands to investigate the state’s elections. These calls align with partisan efforts to relitigate election results in swing states like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Activists have also repeatedly implored staffers of Gov. Mark Gordon and Sec. of State Ed Buchanan to pursue policies to bolster “election integrity.”
County-level post-election audits are already commonplace in Wyoming, and are required by statute. That has not stopped the activist tide; State Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, said he’s received “dozens” of emails calling on lawmakers to pursue an election audit.
“I’ve gotten to a point now that when people write about (voter fraud), I’d say they’d have to tell me that you understand that it’s not true, it didn’t happen, and that all you’re trying to do is trying to help frame your candidate for future elections,” Gierau said. “I want them to tell me they know that (Trump) did not win, that there was no substantive proof of election fraud anywhere in this country.”
The “Wyoming First Audit” chatroom on the online messaging app Telegram has attracted more than 1,000 members — though some are organizing a wide-ranging effort to combat perceived voter fraud.
“The American people are sick of politicians that do things their way instead of what WE THE PEOPLE WANT,” an email addressed to Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, co-chair of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Committee on Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions, read. “WE WANT STATESMEN NOT POLITICIANS. WE ARE DEMANDING AN AUDIT. Do not expect to be re-elect unless you either do an audit or can hand us details (FACTS) like the ones you will learn in South Dakota.”
Zwonitzer understood “South Dakota” as a reference to a “cyber symposium” held there earlier this month by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, he said. During the event, Lindell, a prominent Donald Trump supporter, cast doubt on election results nationwide. Lindell has yet to produce evidence of fraud that election officials find credible. On Aug. 11 a federal judge ruled that a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit brought against Lindell by election-technology vendor Dominion (a manufacturer of voting equipment) could proceed.
Officials with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office reported a sharp increase in public correspondence about election integrity following the event.
“(Since the symposium), we have gotten a lot of emails and a lot of calls with concerns about the integrity of our elections,” SOS spokesperson Monique Meese said.
Chat logs within the Wyoming First Audit room reviewed by WyoFile reveal that growing efforts to circulate election audit petitions exist in numerous counties.
Members of the chatroom shared scripts to use when calling elected officials and directed members to contact officials from their local representatives to the governor. Talking points borrowed heavily from materials shared at the Lindell symposium and the “America First Audits” Telegram channel. They include allegations of “sloppy record-keeping” in Laramie County, which the Wyoming GOP has also referenced in its election integrity messaging.
Members also sought to organize an action plan to bring an audit petition to the governor’s office.
“We do have an effort to be organized and to pool our strengths by reading the pinned message and volunteering to be a part of a group that fits you best,” one member of the group wrote. “We need the WYO army to unite!!!”
Some questioned the integrity of Wyoming’s elections using content from VoterAssurance.org (which is funded by the Susan Gore-backed Wyoming Liberty Group) and Lindell’s FrankSpeech.com. Lindell founded the website after news programs stopped putting him on the air for fear of legal exposure from false, defamatory claims.
Others raised concerns about Wyoming’s use of Election Systems & Software machines — which Lindell and the Wyoming Liberty Group have targeted as potentially vulnerable to fraud — citing the possibility of vote tampering through the internet.
According to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office, Wyoming’s tabulation machines, which were purchased in fall 2019, were not connected to the Internet at any point during the election.
The Wyoming of Secretary of State’s Office — which tasked three staffers with watching Lindell’s Cyber Symposium — contacted Lindell’s team asking for proof of potential fraud, but have not yet received a response, Buchanan said.
“Today, all we have are allegations and nothing of any substance whatsoever,” Buchanan said.
Even lacking proof, casting doubt on the legitimacy of U.S. elections has gone mainstream in conservative politics.
Last week, Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks was booed at a rally with Trump after urging his constituents to put allegations of a stolen election “behind you” as they look toward future election cycles. And polling data has shown a majority of Republican voters believe the election was stolen.
The movement has also touched Wyoming, which has reported just three cases of election fraud since 2000, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation. Earlier this year, Buchanan attended a Republican Secretaries of State Committee meeting where “election integrity” was a primary discussion topic.
In recent weeks, the topic of “election integrity” has even become a wedge issue between U.S. House candidates Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne — who has contested claims of rampant voter fraud in Wyoming’s elections — and Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, who mounted an unsuccessful effort to bring the Wyoming Department of Audit under Legislative oversight for the purpose of auditing elections. “Bouchard is a traitor,” one member of the Telegram group wrote. “Totally agree,” another responded. “I think we are to flood Chuck Gray with phone calls. He is the one that went to Arizona.”
Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, who is supportive of national “election integrity” efforts, traveled to South Dakota earlier this month to attend Lindell’s symposium. What Lindell produced during the forum — even if only halfway or “a little bit” true — should be “concerning to everyone,” Laursen said. Even the slightest bit of doubt should be enough to compel an audit, he said.
“Would it be wise for us to at least do one? It might be,” Laursen, a member of the Wyoming House Freedom Caucus, said. “I don’t know if the Secretary of State would ever be interested. To put people’s minds to ease… It’s pretty darn important, I think.”
The biggest dangers, Gierau said, are signals from elected officials boosting irresponsible allegations.
“What is really starting to become patently obvious is that the Chuck Grays of the world, the people who are playing the opposite way, are feeding it,” Gierau said. “They’re feeding the big lie that they, in their own way, perpetuated just to curry favor for their own political ends. That I think is the biggest danger right now. Because you’ve got a duly elected representative who is perpetuating this and giving people the impression that there’s truth to it. Which there is not.”
To address national concerns about election integrity, the National Association of Secretaries of State voted last week in support of standardized guidelines for the conduct of election audits.
Buchanan, while supportive of the best-practices measures in the guidelines, said the resolution might not actually be necessary in Wyoming, where county-level post-election audits are already mandatory, paper ballots are used in conjunction with digital vote-counting machines and voter rolls are regularly purged of non-voters. Buchanan’s office also performs logic and accuracy testing of the state’s election machines before and after the election, he said, which are all open to the public.
“It’s transparent, so people can see exactly how we do those things,” Buchanan said. “We’re constantly trying to make improvements to the system in Wyoming that we already think is pretty good.”
Buchanan is aware of a national narrative of mistrust in elections, he said, and is contemplating ways to counter that message in Wyoming. In the months following the 2016 election, he combatted allegations from Democrats nationally that foreign powers, including Russia, tampered with U.S. elections, and said he fears a similar narrative taking hold in future elections.
He and his office were happy to answer any questions people had about how Wyoming conducts elections, Buchanan said. Those most in favor of an audit in Wyoming, however, are likely uninformed about the state’s election systems and its safeguards and are simply looking for the conclusion that they already have drawn, he said.
In the coming weeks, Buchanan plans to field every bit of information he can to determine whether there is any credible information regarding widespread fraud in Wyoming’s elections, he said. If evidence is produced, he said, his office will take action. If it is not produced, Buchanan said, he plans to put an end to calls for an audit and begin the work of educating the public how Wyoming’s elections work.
“We want to look at credible evidence,” Buchanan said. “If you give it to us, we’ll find out what happened. We’ll figure it out. But right now, we have received nothing.”
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.