SHERIDAN — The Sheridan County Clerk and Recorder’s Office and Sheridan County Elections Office are joining the other 22 Wyoming counties in asking voters for their input on the future of elections in Wyoming.
Eda Thompson, Sheridan County clerk and recorder, said county clerks throughout the state have launched a survey asking voters about their preferences to assist with making decisions on replacing voting equipment.
“We don’t want to wait until the equipment is failing to decide that we need to upgrade,” Thompson said. “This is a step to look towards the future; our election equipment is in great shape, nothing different from the last election cycle in Sheridan County. But this helps start the conversation — what do we want Wyoming elections to look like in the future?”
Sheridan County last purchased new equipment in December 2005. Thompson said the county’s vendor, Election Systems and Software, has warned that the machines will have to be retired after the 2020 election cycle.
While that gives the county several years to address its voting equipment, Brenda Kekich, the county election supervisor, said there are several factors counties need to consider before buying new machines.
“It’s not something someone can just jump into. It takes time for the study, it takes time to figure out the budgets and it might require statutory changes,” Kekich said. “That’s why the clerks want to start this now, so we can take time and think about what the voters want.”
Thompson said the counties are using the survey to gauge what, if any, changes they can make to accommodate more voters. The survey asks voters to consider a variety of voting options — such as absentee ballots, precinct polling places, early voting and centralized voting centers — and indicate which methods would be most convenient.
The survey results will help Sheridan County decide what kind of equipment it will need to purchase, Thompson and Kekich said, and move on to the next step of figuring out how to pay for it.
In 2002, congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which enacted nation-wide election reforms in response to the controversy that emerged during the 2000 presidential election, in which issues with Florida’s voting machines disqualified ballots and cast doubt on the validity of the state’s final tally. Thompson said HAVA distributed $8 million in state and federal funding among Wyoming counties to replace voting equipment and build a computerized voting registration system. Using money from HAVA, Sheridan County purchased its current voting equipment for $416,870 in December 2005.
HAVA, however, was a one-time grant, and looking ahead, Thompson said the counties are unclear where the money needed to replace voting equipment will come from. In 2005, Wyoming county clerks and then-Secretary of State Joe Meyer proposed a House bill that would have established a trust fund for the eventual replacement of voting equipment, but that bill was never considered by the Senate. Since then, the Legislature has not considered methods for funding the upgrade and replacement of voting equipment.
Thompson said she did not know how much new equipment would cost yet.
The looming need to replace voting equipment comes during a statewide budget crunch. Thompson said her office has been forced to downsize in the past year by offering severance packages to full-time employees and she anticipates other counties may need to take similar steps in the coming year.
Thompson said she hopes starting the conversation about replacing voting equipment now will allow for interim study sessions during which county officials and legislatures can determine how to pay for new voting equipment. Because, Thompson added, the integrity of elections is too important for the state to settle for less than what is needed.
“Budget is part of it, but it is not the main thing,” Thompson said. “More important than the budget is, as a Wyoming citizen, you have the right to vote. That is the priority.”
Kekich and Thompson urged all voters to take the voter survey through the Sheridan County Election Office’s website. Kekich added that if voters do not have access to a computer or would prefer to fill out the survey by hand, they can visit the county elections office to fill out a hard copy.