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A Sheridan non-profit seeks to increase voter participation and civic engagement in Wyoming

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WY Vote was launched by Gail Symons, a self-described civics wonk, as an effort to increase voter participation and civic engagement statewide. WY Vote just recently updated their website so that Wyomingites can find more information online to educate themselves on who to vote for.

“The whole idea of WY Vote is in our mission, [that] all eligible Wyoming citizens are informed voters in each election,” Symons explained. “So, regardless of where you stand on a political spectrum, there's really some basic information that's needed.”

When looking at the candidates running for office, she urges voters to take several factors into consideration before making a decision. These include if the candidate knows and understands the responsibilities of the position, if their background, experience, and capabilities apply to what they’re running for, as well as what would a candidate bring to the position that would make them the most qualified for it.

The WY Vote website compiles a list of candidates who are running for elected office across Wyoming and at all levels, from those who are candidates for governor to more local races.

Symons’s desire to create a resource for voters stemmed from her own experiences watching what was happening during the 2016 campaign season.

“I noticed in the 2016 elections that there was a lot of misinformation [and] disinformation, and in really poor use of, say, voting records,” she said. “And I realized that because people don't understand the processes in the legislature, they are susceptible to being deceived, or at least misled.”

The desire to do something was also furthered in the form of a voter study published by Wyoming AARP [American Association of Retired People], which indicated significant gaps in who was casting ballots.

“The 60-, 70- and 80-year-olds, [those in their] 70s is the highest at about 80 percent participation,” she explained. “And it goes down a little bit after that, I think as people's health [declines], and it's just a little bit less [than] that at 60 years old, so we're talking an overwhelming majority of participation by those people who are retired. The greatest part of their life is already over. [In] the 18 to 30 year old [age demographic], the participation was only 20 percent. That is disheartening.”

Providing information and encouraging voting is part of the equation to get voters to cast ballots but the individual voter must take the time to know who the candidates are and what they stand for, she added, saying voting is akin to a job interview for those vying for a public job.

“The folks that file for an office, whether it's a partisan office, or a nonpartisan [one] like school board, they're actually applying for a job,” Symons explained. They're applying for a job to represent us as the electorate in a particular way. When I take that analogy, and I use that, it starts making sense, and it started providing some structure around how to put that information out there.”

Symons’s family is helping out with the initiative as well and are accepting donations to help keep the site up and their operations going. She’s spoken with professional organizations and is open to giving more of her insights to additional groups.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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