State passes on internal GOP election fraud allegation

The Wyoming Secretary of State’s office will not pursue allegations of election fraud filed by a Uinta County man against the Wyoming Republican Party, arguing the alleged fraud is a local, not state, issue.

In an April 2 letter to the complainant, Jon Conrad, Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler said her office would not investigate an allegedly illegal vote. Conrad claimed the Uinta County GOP’s sitting leaders were allowed to vote for themselves in a closely contested election to the state central committee contrary to state law.

While members followed state party bylaws in the vote, Conrad contends, those bylaws were in direct conflict with Wyoming statutes, which dictate that only elected precinct men and women can vote in elections for county party leadership. None of the four sitting members of leadership, including the sitting party chairman, had been elected to precinct seats in last year’s Republican primaries, apparently disqualifying them from participating in their own re-election vote the following March, according to state law. 

State law stipulates only members of the county central committee — defined in statute as “precinct committeemen and committeewomen elected in the county at the regular biennial primary election” — are allowed to vote.

Language in the party bylaws, however, argued members of the executive committee — even if they were not reelected in the primary — were allowed to vote alongside the rank and file members of the county party in elections for executive leadership. This, Conrad argued, cleared the way for those four sitting members of leadership to serve as unlawful swing votes in their own re-election bids, even though they had lost their precinct races. 

Seven Republicans, including two state lawmakers, have since filed suit to keep “improperly and illegally” elected state central committee members from participating in the election for state GOP chair. Sen. Wendy Davis Schuler, R-Evanston, Rep. Danny Eyre, R-Evanston, and the other five want their case to be heard before that election May 14.

“These improperly and illegally selected representatives from Uinta County could represent each of the (legal) county central committee members and each registered Republican in the county if the court does not act quickly,” the lawsuit reads.

It is unclear whether a candidate will run against incumbent chairman, Frank Eathorne, who has indicated he will run for re-election.

Though the allegations centered around the state party’s role in an election to positions within the state party, the alleged violations took place at the county level, according to the AG’s letter. Therefore, any discrepancies in that election would need to be addressed at the county level.

“We have been advised by the Attorney General’s Office, pursuant to W.S. 22-26-121(b), complaints that a county candidate or county committee violated the Election Code go to the relevant county clerk’s office,” a copy of the letter obtained by WyoFile reads. “Therefore the appropriate jurisdiction for your complaint would be the Uinta County Clerk’s Office.”

Conrad did not respond to a request for comment by publication time. Neither did the Wyoming Republican Party or the party’s attorney, Brian Shuck.

Several weeks after the contested vote, newly elected chairwoman Biffy Jackson told the Cowboy State Politics podcast that the Wyoming Republican Party had informed the incumbents before the vote that sitting members of leadership were acting in accordance with party bylaws. County party officials have since maintained that their elections were conducted properly. Conrad has not disputed this, arguing only that the party’s bylaws conflict with state law.

“The issue in question was ‘do current officers get to vote?’ The answer is yes,” outgoing Uinta County GOP chairman Lyle Williams — one of the four ousted precinctmen allowed to vote in the election — wrote in an opinion piece for the Uinta County Herald shortly after the vote. “This fact was made abundantly clear to all concerned well before the election. They were provided with the relevant section of the bylaws as well as a statement from the state chairman, state party attorney and state parliamentarian, all of which supported the affirmative answer…”

That question will now be taken up by the Uinta County Clerk’s Office, which received the re-referred complaint on April 6, according to Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson. If found to have merit, the case will then go to the district attorney’s office. Meanwhile, the lawsuit will continue through the judicial system as normal.

Hutchinson declined to comment on specific details of the case, citing an open investigation. However, she said the process in the clerk’s office would go “really quickly.”

Conrad’s complaint represents the fourth re-referral on an election complaint under Secretary of State Ed Buchanan since January 2018, according to numbers provided by that office. Out of 18 election complaints his office received since then, four were deferred to a county clerk, three were deemed without merit and 11 were advanced to the Attorney General’s Office.

Of that 11, two were determined in court (one in the state’s favor, one in the complainant’s favor) while two others are ongoing.

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