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By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
The process the Wyoming Republican Party used Saturday to select the interim secretary of state was in many ways a test of allegiance to the Republican nominee for secretary of state, the state House representative. Chuck Gray, R-Casper. All three finalists selected by the party highlighted their support for Gray.
“The most important thing about this interim position is to make sure the election is done and that Chuck Gray has the smoothest transition,” said candidate Carl Allred, one of three finalists selected. “A lot of mines could be thrown. … The most important thing is to make sure there is a clean transition before Chuck Gray takes office.”
Allred, Marti Halverson and Bryan Miller were selected as finalists for the post of interim secretary of state during Saturday’s Republican Central Committee meeting in Pavillion. Governor Mark Gordon will have five days to select an interim secretary of state from among three finalists.
Halverson won the most votes with 55 votes. Miller was second with 52 votes and Allred was third with 43 votes.
“I’m glad my Central Committee gave me their vote of confidence today,” Halverson told the Cowboys State Journal.
Of the 72 voting members, 19 participated virtually.
Sheridan County Republican Party Chairman Mueller said he “has a lot of experience doing something like this.”
Sheridan residents have been in the county party since 2015 and ran against Gray when they both failed to secure a Republican nod for Wyoming’s U.S. House seat. Miller also ran for U.S. Senate in 2014.
Miller lost the state legislature and party district races this year. Recent changes to the state bylaws will still allow him to run for re-election as chairman next spring.
“Someone needs to come down to Cheyenne to make sure the integrity of the election is upheld,” he said.
Uinta County Republican Commissioner Allred is the longest-serving Republican Central Committee member. If Gordon chooses, he said the office would be “perfectly” handed over to the permanent secretary of state, who will take office in January.
“It’s not a job, it’s a temporary placeholder,” Allred said.
In an interview after being selected as a finalist, Allred took the position even more seriously, saying the nominated candidate would oversee the secretary of state’s office.
Miller agrees with the placeholder outline.
“No matter how you cut it, of course it is. Three months.” he said
Marti Halverson and Allred are particularly focused on facilitating a smooth transition to the next secretary of state, primarily Gray, who is expected to have no opponent in the general election.
Halverson, a former Wyoming state congressman and right to life president, said she would “do whatever Chuck needs me to do.”
Albany County Republican Committee member Mark Armstrong finished third in the Republican primary for secretary of state with more than 14,000 votes. On Saturday, he received three.
In his speech, Armstrong said he would “take some pressure” on issues Gray wants to accomplish, such as banning voting drop boxes. The promise to ban the boxes was Gray’s main campaign promise. Allred also said all ballot boxes would need to be removed, but did not say whether he would try to enact that before Gray took office.
Allread also mentioned the need to further strengthen the state’s voter ID laws. Gray helped pass a voter ID law in 2021. Halverson mentioned how ID is not required to get an absentee ballot.
Mary Lankford, who finished fifth with 13 votes, served as a clerk in Sublette County for 32 years and was the only candidate to stand directly in the election. One of the Secretary of State’s primary responsibilities is to oversee the state’s elections.
Lankford also mentioned that the secretary of state’s office conducted a clean audit of the primaries.
“The election in Wyoming has integrity. (I will) just continue the good work they are doing by overseeing the process,” she said.
Lankford said she was “obligated” to vote for Gray at the general election and would wait to discuss transition plans with him, but not until after the election. Miller said that while Gray is an active candidate for the position, he won’t wait until after the election to speak to Gray. Allred acknowledged there could be a conflict, but was vague when asked if it would prevent him from communicating with Gray.
“I talk to everyone,” he said.
‘A terrible precedent’
Armstrong described as “abhorrent” attempts by some members of the corporate, election and political division committees to undercut the secretary of state and create a nonpartisan voting committee. Those efforts “set a terrible precedent,” Miller said.
Halverson recently spearheaded a campaign through her own Election Integrity and Safety Committee to audit elections in several Laramie and Fremont counties. The committee prepared a lengthy report to share with former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, listing some of the flaws it believes were in the Wyoming election.
Halverson also said the electronic voting books had created significant problems, which she wanted to address.
“Everything I’ve done for the next three months has one goal in mind: to facilitate a smooth transition for the next secretary of state,” she said.
Halverson was selected as a finalist in January as interim director of public instruction, but was not selected by Governor Gordon.
Miller and Armstrong also took time to talk about what they see as issues with election integrity in their respective counties. Miller’s claim that some election law violations occurred in Sheridan drew his and others’ attention.
“They allow certain things to happen that start small,” he said. “The broken windows are there. If you don’t fix the windows, more people will take advantage.”
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the Committee on Business, Elections and Political Divisions, said he was disappointed by Saturday’s party’s election.
“I want the party to choose who I think is more mainstream,” Zwonitzer told the Cowboys State Journal Saturday night. “I want the party to nominate people who have experience in the office they’re looking for, not party members.”
In addition to overseeing elections in Wyoming, the secretary of state has many other responsibilities, such as serving on key state-level committees and managing the state’s business register.
As a member of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, candidate Patrick Miller has worked directly with the State Land and Investments, State Building Commission and State Land Commission. The Secretary of State is a member of all three committees.
“I just encourage you to be really thoughtful about the candidate you’re picking,” he said, emphasizing careful decision-making and spending as little as possible.
He finished sixth with eight votes.
Allred said he would ensure that taxpayer money spent at SLIB is closely monitored. Brian Miller said most projects should be funded by counties and cities, and said he doesn’t believe SLIB will hold any more important meetings for the rest of the year.
Halverson said she would decide whether to vote for the state-funded road project based on whether the government had the power to move forward with the proposed work.
Armstrong said that, as a member of the committee, he would support the return of funds awarded by the federal government. He uses the topic as a tangent to talk about his claims that he was unfairly fired from his job as a geologist, and how his divorce was affected by the federal government.
Wyoming Republican treasurer Bob Ferguson said he would use his authority on the committee to protect minerals and natural resources. Ferguson finished fourth with 24 votes.
In discussing the three committees on which the secretary of state sits, he cited his experience working on Wall Street and the NRA.
“Fortunately, my financial experience allows me to effectively get on these boards,” Ferguson said by phone.
Brian Miller, who received one vote, and candidate John Holtz both have military backgrounds.
Holtz is a Laramie attorney who served as Converse County Judge from 1981-93 and Converse County Deputy County Attorney from 1979-81. He talked about how his experience working in the Air Force and ballistic missiles prepared him well for his job as secretary of state.
“You have to be vigilant,” he said.
Many committee members like Ferguson were unable to attend meetings in person due to road closures in Wind River Canyon. Due to delays and other technical difficulties, the gala didn’t begin discussing agenda items until 90 minutes after it was scheduled to begin, with some members of Park and Hot Springs participating virtually.
Candidates Pete Illoway and Janet Marscner did not attend the meeting and did not share information about them on Saturday. They received a total of four votes.
A total of 10 candidates are running for interim secretary of state. Jennifer James canceled her application on Friday night, shortly after the shortlist was announced. Four candidates were able to vote as current committee members during the selection process. There was no mention of exempting these candidates from voting rights.
Allred was also allowed to explain the rules of the games he played at the same time.
A motion to exclude Patrick Miller from candidate consideration was rejected early because he did not provide his address or phone number in the original application package. On Saturday, he did provide the information and driver’s license in person.
Miller, a 25-year-old Cheyenne resident whose job is sensitive in nature, said he was nervous about his personal information being made public.
“Don’t disqualify him, show him how much he considers us,” Carbon County Commissioner Joey Corenti said.
Gary Welch, the chairman of the Big Horn County Republican Party, opposed allowing Miller to participate, saying his personal information would inevitably be made public because of the public nature of the secretary of state position.
All the candidates were taken out of the room while their opponents spoke. After the day’s speaking, they were allowed to stay in the room.
According to voting rules, candidates who do not receive a majority are eliminated, a form of runoff. No further ballots were held as only three candidates received a majority after the first round of voting.
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