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Wyoming's Secretary of State says elections in the state are safe and secure

Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan
Chris Pyle
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Camera Man, Inc
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan

Following the 2016 election, many started to express concern about election security. That conversation was ramped up in 2020, even in Wyoming, where problems with voting irregularities haven't been documented. Lately, people in some areas of the state have pushed for hand counting of ballots, which is not currently allowed, but Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan said it's also not necessary. He joined Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck to discuss how safe Wyoming's elections are.

Bob Beck: I wanted to talk about something that has certainly come up in the state. It's this mistrust of elections. I know you've been vigorously involved in a campaign trying to educate folks on how this is all working out and you're confident that everything is safe and sound and people shouldn't have to worry?

Ed Buchanan: I am confident that our elections are done correctly in Wyoming. We work hard on that. Obviously, I've always said that if people don't trust their elections, nothing else really matters. And I think that's very true.

In the last four years in this office, we haven't been sitting static, we have been making improvements to processes and trying to bring our election code up to contemporary times. But the fact of the matter is, we've had new election equipment since 2020. And it's not connected to the internet and that we have very secure ways of utilizing that equipment and transferring the results of the election on election night.

BB: Does it surprise you that people are concerned about the election here? Because I'm not really aware of any problems?

EB: No, there weren't any problems. It's important to know we do a pretest and we do a post-test, and all of Wyoming's 23 counties reported 100 percent success with those tests. So we make sure that the voting machines are counting correctly. We use test decks of ballots to do that, both before and after the election. And no, there aren't any real problems at all. And in fact, we are working on a new post-election test, where we're going to compare actual ballots cast to the cast vote record of the machines and that'll be yet another safeguard that will give people a lot of confidence in their elections.

BB: I actually think hand counting would go worse than the rest of the options. Am I wrong about that?

EB: I could talk for probably an hour on hand counting. Because it is a process by which you're probably going to get different results, if you hand count ballots, as opposed to using machines to count the ballots. And here's why, machines are programmed to read through basically a coordinate, if you will, on the sides of the paper to count the vote for a certain election question or for a certain candidate. And that machine will only read that as a vote if the voter properly filled in the oval or the circle next to that candidate's name. Whereas if you had a ballot, perhaps where somebody didn't follow instructions, and say they circled the name of the candidate off to the right or put a star next to the candidate's name, then humans have the propensity, and we saw this in 2000 in Bush v. Gore in Florida, we want to figure out if that was a vote for that particular person or was it not? If the person circled the whole name of the candidate, we as humans in hand counting would say that is a vote for that candidate. The machine, on the other hand, would not. And so it's very likely that you would have different results from a machine tabulation as compared to a human tabulation. And so it's one of those things where you have to know the capabilities of humans, you have to know the capabilities of the machines and realize that they're not the same because the machine is very objective. Humans are not because we have the capability to (believe) maybe this person did intend to vote for this candidate, even though they didn't fill in the oval properly. So it can cause more problems than it's worth. But I will say this, I appreciate that people bring up ways to safeguard elections, ways to double check results, ways to audit results, because that gives rise to conversations like you and I are having so that we can intelligently discuss the pros and cons of having different methodologies.

BB: I can't count my money correctly. So I would be the last guy you'd want counting any ballots. And that's mostly my point, it just seems like the opportunity for error is greater with a hand count.

EB: There have been studies that say human beings are not good at mundane tasks and voting and counting ballots are very mundane, routine tasks, and we're not very good at it. I have no evidence to suggest this is true, but I would assert that when you had elections back in the 1930s, or 40s, or 50s, when you hand counted paper ballots. If you don't think that there was a greater potential for mischief and fraud back then than there is now, then I think we're being a little naive. And so I have great confidence in the way our machines work. And I especially appreciate the fact that we have the paper ballots to back up those machine results.

BB: A couple of other things I would also like to ask you about. So you're going to have Voter ID this time, how will that change life for people?

EB: I don't think it will. We had some special elections in 2021 and the clerks reported back that it was a very smooth process. I think the fact is that most people have some type of identification on them for every other thing they have to do in life on a daily basis. And so certainly, they're prepared to come to the polls with their ID. And the other thing is my office has done a great job of educating voters, through media, and other public awareness programs about the need to have your ID when you come to the polls to vote.

BB: I also want to ask about absentee ballots. I know there was some firming up of our regulations on that, what's changing there? It sounds like good news for people like me that want the election done on election night.

EB: There was a bill in the legislature, whereby county clerks could process absentee ballots on the Thursday and Friday, prior to election day. They are not counting those ballots, rather, they are processing those ballots by removing them from the envelopes. And really this came from COVID when a greater number of people utilized absentee ballots. And so we wanted to make sure that the clerks had plenty of time to get the election results done on election night. And there was some consternation about that legislation, but I will tell you that when we allowed that to happen in the 2020 election, I put about 10 parameters around that process. So that it was transparent, open to the public, it had to be done during business hours, it couldn't be done on the weekend. Everything about that process is open to the public and transparent so that everybody knows and can see how they are processing those ballots. And so when the legislation came along in this last session, I reviewed it to make sure that it contained all of the safeguards that I wanted to see and that we put in place in the 2020 election.

And to your point, I think it's important that we have election results on election night because the next thing that happens is if you can't process your ballots and get the results in, albeit sometimes late on election night, then people start to question what you did with the ballots that you didn't get counted on election night. And they ask who had access to those? Did you lock them up? Where did you put them? And I think more suspicion would arise out of results that come a day, two days, three days later than under this process that we're undertaking to make sure that we get election results on election day.

Bob Beck has been News Director of Wyoming Public Radio since 1988. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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