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Gray urges Wyoming to ditch ballot drop boxes; clerks say they’re safe, legal

The decision is ultimately up to the clerk in each county, several of which used ballot drop boxes long before the controversy of the 2020 election.

Chuck Gray, Secretary of State (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

by Maggie Mullen, WyoFile

Secretary of State Chuck Gray is seeking to keep a campaign promise to rid the state of ballot drop boxes, but the group representing the state’s county clerks maintains the decision is up to local election officials. 

Gray, Wyoming’s chief election official, centered his 2022 campaign on election integrity, telling voters that Wyoming had “tremendous problems” with its elections. Ballot drop boxes, Gray said, were partly to blame — an echo of widespread, unsubstantiated claims that they are vulnerable to voter fraud. 

Gray is now urging local election officials to ditch drop boxes ahead of absentee voting beginning next month, going as far to say that drop boxes are illegal under state statute. 

“I do not believe drop boxes represent a safe, secure, or statutory basis for absentee voting,” Gray wrote in a Wednesday letter to county clerks. “For this reason, they should not be used in the 2024 Election and beyond.” 

While Gray’s letter may be strongly worded, it likely amounts to just that since it’s up to county clerks to decide whether to use drop boxes. The County Clerks’ Association of Wyoming reiterated that discretion in response to Gray’s letter. 

“We hold that the use of ballot drop boxes as a method of ballot delivery is safe, secure and statutorily authorized,” the association wrote in its response. 

While the controversy around ballot drop boxes may be relatively new — largely thanks to the debunked film “2,000 Mules,” whose distributor recently apologized for and pulled it from its platforms — ballot drop boxes themselves are not new to Wyoming. In fact, several counties used drop boxes well before the 2020 election. 

In his letter, Gray also announced he would rescind several directives related to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of which did not involve ballot drop boxes. 

Teton is one of several Wyoming counties that has previously allowed voters to cast their ballots via drop boxes. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Background

This is not the first time Wyoming’s chief elections officer has sought to ditch ballot drop boxes. 

In October 2022, with less than a month before the general election, then Secretary of State Karl Allred made an informal request to the county clerks. 

“I do not wish to interrupt or cause confusion to the voting process that is already in-progress, but I will ask that you make an honest assessment as to whether or not discontinuing the use of your drop box would cause any disruption for your voters,” Allred wrote in a letter. 

Allred — who was appointed in September 2022 to fill a vacancy left by Ed Buchanan — acknowledged that “there have been no issues reported with the use of drop boxes in Wyoming,” in his letter. 

“But that does not alleviate the potential for abuse or destruction of ballots through use of fire or other means,” Allred wrote. 

Lacking legal teeth, Allred’s letter was nothing more than a friendly request. Ultimately, none of the seven counties using ballot drop boxes at that time took action. 

2,000 Mules  

As a candidate for secretary of state, Gray told WyoFile “we must ban ballot drop boxes.” 

“The documentary ‘2,000 Mules’ has shown how dangerous these drop boxes are,” Gray said in a June 2022 interview. “And it’s just a huge problem.”

Last week, the conservative media company behind the film “2,000 Mules” and a book by the same name issued an apology, and said it removed the film from its platforms and will cease to distribute the film or the book. When asked whether the announcement factored into his decision, Gray said WyoFile was making “misleading, out of context statements.” 

When asked to elaborate, Gray criticized WyoFile for its coverage of his 2022 campaign. 

In February, Gray did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment when the nonprofit whose claims the film was based on admitted in court filings it has no evidence to back its assertions. 

Election judge Kay Kellner, who is seen behind a sneeze guard, works Aug. 11, 2020 helping people register to vote or cast early or absentee ballots in the Fremont County Courthouse. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

Other details

Wyoming’s election code specifies that absentee ballots shall be “mailed or delivered to the clerk,” but Gray interprets that differently than his predecessor, Buchanan, now a district court judge. 

“The plain language of the statute, which strikes a balance between allowing voters to conveniently cast their votes and maintaining the security and integrity of the early voting process, does not authorize delivery of an absentee ballot to inanimate object, such as an unstaffed ballot drop box,” Gray wrote in his letter. 

The fact that the majority of county clerks have not used drop boxes in past elections is “legal evidence” for why drop boxes are not allowed in state statute, his letter states. 

“The election code requires uniformity in its application, and the fact that a few counties are deviating from the uniform, clear application of Title 22 is also problematic,” Gray added. 

In some instances, however, the election code leaves decisions up to locally elected officials, the clerks’ association said in its response, pointing to electronic pollbooks, election equipment, vote centers, precinct boundaries and absentee ballot processing.

Drop boxes are another example, according to the association. 

“The voices of our constituents as a whole help guide our decisions on this, and many other, important election administration decisions,” the association wrote. “Our great state offers a myriad of differences from one corner to the next and for that reason a blanket solution does not always serve those distinct populations in the most practical manner.” 

Absentee voting for Wyoming’s primary election begins July 23 for most residents. 


This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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