Ironing out Pinedale's election details
by Isabel Rucker, Sublette Examiner
May 5, 2006
There have been some questions about the validity of Dave Smith's Pinedale Town Council candidacy in the recent municipal election held Tuesday, May 2. Also there has been frustration with the registration laws' cutoff dates for being a qualified elector. The Town of Pinedale is in charge of its municipal election and Sublette County is in charge of the voters' registry.
Smith re-registered Tuesday, May 2, because he had been purged from Sublette County's voters' registry in November of 2004. A Sublette County native, Smith has traveled and been in the military, often voting from afar. He has voted many times in Sublette County.
The Sublette County Clerk's office can purge names from the voters' registry for a variety of reasons, according to Wyoming state statute 22-3-115. Grounds for cancellation can occur in the following cases: failure to vote in any general election, death, removal of residence from the county or state more than 30 days prior to an election, disqualification to vote, notification of registration in another jurisdiction, or upon the written request of the elector. It is the county clerk's responsibility to notify electors of the registration cancellation (unless the clerk has received a receipt of notification that the elector has registered to vote in another jurisdiction or if the elector requested cancellation in writing).
"My greatest fear is to lose somebody along the way," said Sublette County Clerk Mary Lankford. The county is still using a 10-year-old registry database system because the state recently dropped the contract for a newer system.
Each person that applies to run for office signs that the provided information is valid. According to Pinedale Town Attorney Ed Wood, neither the Town of Pinedale nor Sublette County is responsible for verifying the application information. The State of Wyoming uses its canvassing board to verify the candidates' information.
Peggy Nighfwonger, the Secretary of State's election deputy, said upon election day, the state's canvassing board certifies the elections and candidates’ qualifications. The Town of Pinedale's canvassing board certified Dave Smith as a qualified elector.
If Smith had been found in violation of the canvassing board's rules, the position would have become vacant and handled as such. Wood stated that vacancies are handled by the Pinedale Town Council, it re-appoints a replacement; there would not be another municipal election. (As a side note, qualified electors have the right to contest an election in their jurisdiction and Wood said that in Pinedale the elector must file a petition to the district court.)
Another bone of contention has been the cut-off dates for registering to vote. Several residents complained of not being allowed to vote in Pinedale's election because they had registered in the 29 days leading up to the election and said that they had not been advised of the window of inopportunity. Sixteen Pinedale residents registered to vote in that window.
Lankford said that for "forever" there has been a 30-day cutoff of registrations for preparation of election. People can still register in those days leading up to the election but will not be qualified for that vote. For privacy, the county clerk's office does not ask why a person is registering to vote. People register for a variety of reasons, not always pertaining to an election.
Some states allow residents to register to vote in any state or county agency, this was put into place during the Clinton years and called the National Voter Registration Act, popularly known as "Motor Voter.” Wyoming decided it wanted to keep a closer eye on registrations to avoid voter fraud and, rather than allowing people to register in many places up to 30 days before an election, the state allows registration the day of the election.
Lankford reported that 34 people registered Tuesday and 19 changed their address.
While the Town of Pinedale is not required to, it would be a courtesy to make citizens more aware of the laws of the municipal election. It would also convenience the voter to be able to register at town hall the day of the election rather than the county courthouse. The option to register voters at the town hall is available and up to the town clerk to request from the county clerk; both the Town of Marbleton and Town of Big Piney take advantage of the option.
For further reading, all of the Wyoming State Statutes related to elections can be found on the Internet at http://legisweb.state.wy.us/statutes/sub22.htm.