By Hunter Hoffler
Wyoming Republican Chuck Gray, the recent nominee for Wyoming Secretary of State, claims he intends to make significant changes when he arrives in the State’s capital of Cheyenne. Like many Trump-backed candidates, Gray believes the 2020 presidential election was a fraud and fears his State is rife with voter fraud as well.
Gray ran on the promise that he would curtail voter fraud despite only three convicted cases of voter fraud in Wyoming since the year 2000. To combat this issue, Gray has openly stated that he wants to ban ballot drop boxes in his State, instead opting for the traditional practice of collecting “all paper ballots.” The presumed Secretary-elect would prefer in-person, paper-ballot voting. In Gray’s words, “The fact that a few counties have moved off of paper ballots . . . is really wrong.”
Despite a heavily Republican constituency in Wyoming, Gray asserts that local elections can still become compromised through nefarious ballot collection practices. As a result, Gray’s campaign for Wyoming Secretary of State fixated on improving election integrity and demonstrating the likely impacts of voter fraud. Hoping to impact his constituency, Gray repeatedly aired the controversial and critically ridiculed documentary “2000 Mules” by Dinesh D’Souza at his campaign stops.
The question remains: what authority will Gray have to implement his election integrity agenda? While in the state legislature, Gray also campaigned on, and promulgated bills to, improve election integrity. In 2021, Gray and his colleagues passed Wyoming’s Voter ID Law, which required residents to possess a valid state or federal form of identification to vote in person. Fortunately for those who oppose Gray’s agenda as Secretary of State, he alone will not be able to implement radical change to Wyoming’s voting procedures. In fact, within the scope of voting and voter registration, the Wyoming Secretary of State’s duties are relegated mainly to the administration and oversight of elections. In other words, to implement sweeping changes to the way Wyoming residents can vote, Gray will need to go through the State’s legislature and adhere to federal voting regulations.
The more immediate concern (should Gray be sworn in as Wyoming’s Secretary of State) is staff turnover in the Secretary of State’s office, particularly amongst those experienced in administering elections. Reducing the collective experience of the group administering elections could lead to trouble in upcoming state and federal election cycles should a hitch in the process occur. To date, one official has vacated her position based on concerns over Gray’s views.
The nation’s voters are broadly divided along party lines regarding the ratification of election security legislation – which is generally a priority of registered Republicans – or election openness legislation – which is usually a priority of registered Democrats. However, Wyoming legislators on both sides of the aisle are concerned enough with Gray’s positions on the 2020 Presidential election and Wyoming election security to propose legislation that would strip his soon-to-be office of its duties to oversee elections.
Opponents of Gray’s proposals fear that the growing number of local and federal candidates running on platforms of election insecurity may spread fear that the election process is flawed. Mistrust in the election system may, in turn, lead to uncertainty, harassment, and lack of participation at the polls.
What is clear is that there should be a bipartisan coalition that works to ensure elections are safe for the people of Wyoming. What remains to be seen is whether Chuck Gray and his principles will be part of that conversation.