2014 Election Risk Analysis: Wyoming

By January 1, 2014 Uncategorized No Comments
Wyoming-risk-analysis

Next major election: Tuesday Aug. 19 Primary election

RISK RATINGS

Integrity Index: Rated 49th out of 50 states by the Better Government Association, with 50 the lowest rating.1

Election Risk Analysis: Significant, rated 5 out of 10, with 10 being highest risk.2

Special areas of concern: Wyoming is one of three states which acts as a corporate secrecy haven, rivaling even the Cayman Islands in some aspects.3 Extractive industries (oil, coal), creating asymmetrical power which can displace citizen controls, are Wyoming’s number one source of income.4

Four things get Wyoming half-way up the election integrity scale:

1. Reasonably decent reconciliation methods; election officials do make generally good efforts to reconcile number of ballots issued, spoiled, cast, with number of voters5;

2. Same-day registration6, which offsets past irregularities in purging voters inappropriately7;

3. Allowing public citizens to examine voted ballots under open records laws8;

4. Paper ballots for most of the state9, with the exception of Laramie County, home to 16 percent of all eligible voters in the state. Laramie County requires polling place voters to use touch-screens with a “VVPAT” — a “Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail” which lacks the degree of integrity offered by voter-marked paper ballots.

Lowering the state’s election integrity chances are five areas of concern:

1. Rose-colored, sometimes misleading information from the Wyoming Dept. of State, in two areas: Under-reporting and distortion of the degree and severity of problems that have cropped up with the state’s vote-counting computers; and misleading reporting of voter turnout.

Misleading voter turnout reporting: The state culls out all inactive and occasional voters and uses only the list of people who regularly vote to calculate voter turnout. According to the EAC Data Sets, Wyoming would appear to have a whopping 93% turnout. In fact, Wyoming has one of the worst voter registration rates in the nation, ranking 48th in percentage of voting-aged adults who are registered.10

2. A nonstop assault on right to know laws, spearheaded by a lobbying group called the Wyoming Association of Municipalities (WAM). The most crucial protection for election transparency is enforcement of robust public right-to-know laws; WAM, funded primarily by for-profit developers and construction firms, comes back year after year attempting to pour their concrete into a gaping loophole, removing public right to know for decisionmaking processes. The Wyoming Press Association and other citizen groups have successfully blocked nontransparency legislation year after year, but because lawyers for WAM are paid to achieve right-to-know loopholes, they will perpetually repeat their anti-transparency lobbying.11

timeline-wyoming-elections-open-records3

This is not an isolated attack on Freedom of Information; through the various leagues and associations for municipalities, state after state is finding its right-to-know process under fire. Removing decisionmaking processes from right to know is helpful for developers looking to gain competitive advantage by pushing through contracts and zoning without attracting attention. Unfortunately, any loopholes in open records directly affect election transparency, which relies on those laws for public authentication.

3. Vendors like ES&S have extraordinary power to affect the vote count in Wyoming, which mostly uses the M100 scanners. When problems arise, out comes the jet from Omaha bringing out-of-state technicians12, unnamed, never sworn in as election officials, who perform their work outside of public view. A number of problems have appeared with misprogramming (a) the voting machines (b) the tabulators which accumulate voting machine results, and (c) with ballot-printing.

4. When elections are close — even separated by as little as one vote — hand recounts are not allowed13. Wyoming only allows recount by computer. However, election officials not infrequently implement hand counts on their own to sort out various incorrect programming issues with the machines. In general, this is a good procedure but should be closely publicly observed, which may not always be the case.

5. Money: The extractive industry’s thumb-on-the-scale in elections should always be a concern in selecting local or state officials who will be charged with drilling or mining decisionmaking. Wyoming is the source of one of the most famous corruption scandals in history, the Teapot Dome Scandal, which tainted a president and caused a secretary of the interior to be convicted of bribery during the early 20th Century. Recently, Wyoming coal interests became heavily involved in an attempt to choose local officials in Whatcom County Washington, trying to pave the way for coal exports to Asia through the Pacific Gateway. Citizens seeking right-to-know documents on the chemicals used in fracking were outlawyered by Wyoming extractive corporations.14

Money-laundering and corporate secrecy: Public officials, not just from Wyoming but from any state, find an easy path to starting hidden bank accounts should they wish to accept bribes and kickbacks, simply by going through Wyoming, which offers fairly aggressive sheltering for the true owners of corporate entities. So evasive are Wyoming shell corporations that the eighth-most wanted money laundering criminal in the world, a Ukrainian kleptocrat, chose Wyoming for his cash conduit.15

Wyoming offers a friendly-but-secretive environment for public graft, and also has an incentive to protect turf against corporate transparency legislation, like that sponsored each year by US Sen. Carl Levin.

For cowboy-boot country, Wyoming brings in a surprising number of top-level financial industry luminaries, including the head of the fed who shows up for regular meetings in Jackson Hole. More than one elite Wyoming financier has stubbed their toes, with a powerful rancher/financier getting into hot water for attempting to steer New York pension funds16, and a Wyoming state investments chief forced to resign due to inside trading.17

In the campaign finance area, one of Wyoming’s more bizarre combinations of laws and court decisions provides for a five-year time-out if a politician fails to file his campaign finance reports, but a court ruled the penalty illegal. The upshot is that candidates really can’t be penalized for failing to file disclosure documents.18

THE GOOD NEWS

Wyoming was one of the last states in the nation to put campaign finance information online, but it’s up now and relatively easy to navigate. They call dark money “First Amendment money.”

Wyoming was the first state in the nation to enfranchise women, and its Republican-dominated legislature passed Election Day Registration back in 1994.

The Wyoming press has provided a strong and effective voice for public right-to-know, and has done a better than average job of reporting election integrity problems by asking real questions, with fewer platitudes than we normally see. Tech-savvy Wyoming citizens have a superb window of opportunity to help reporters ask even better questions. Generally the weakest reporting on voting machine issues has been by the Associated Press, with quite good coverage by the Gillette News Record and the Casper Star-Tribune, and an outstanding series on public right to know by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

PAST IRREGULARITIES

An especially interesting problem surfaced in Sublette County which has implications for the rest of the nation. A ballot designed with one font was produced with a different font, kicking one of the vote-choice ovals down a line19, likely to cause the scanning machine to misidentify or even miss the vote. Ballot scanners typically map vote choices using a grid system, with the system knowing how to attribute the vote based on the position of the oval. The clerk reprinted ballots; the problem was caught by a candidate who noticed the difference between sample ballots and official ballots.

And now a word about sugar-coated glitches: According to a 2012 article in the Billings Gazette quoting deputy Sec. State Pat Arp, “a couple minor problems cropped up . . . Officials in Park County had difficulty getting a machine to read ballots. Arp says the problem is being fixed with little if any delay.”20

Big Horn Radio Network’s news director David Koch reported rather more than this, and according to the Cody Enterprise, “A state elections staffer and a contractor from the Omaha, Neb., company that sold vote tabulator machines to the state flew to Cody from Cheyenne on Tuesday to help get things moving.The trouble began early that morning when scanners at the polls began having problems in precincts throughout the county … some software issues persisted until about 10 p.m.”21 Radio host Koch was later arrested for voting as a former felon, after someone dug up a 20-year old felony conviction for burglary from Alaska.
22

A highly troubling voter database error cropped up in 2009, when voters throughout the state were sent purge letters saying they had not voted even though they had, in fact, voted.23 This deletion of voter histories is extremely curious, because the same thing happened in Tennessee and Pennsylvania, in locations that, like Wyoming, initially used Accenture for their statewide database, then supposedly dumped the firm due to problems. To my knowledge, no one has yet connected the dots but these issues are likely related. Deletion of voter histories can cause disenfranchisement due to wrongful purge (though not in Wyoming since it offers same-day registration). When voter lists incorrectly drop voters, candidates get incomplete lists for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Another state-to-state pattern emerges when reviewing “glitch” articles from Laramie county, and others, struggling with tabulation delays when attempting to use Diebold/Premier “blended” systems combining touch-screens and optical scans at the precinct.24 This happened in Florida too; the root cause was actually deceptive advertising by Diebold, which used to claim that both polling place systems could blend transmission of results. They can’t; Diebold finally admitted that, and these counties should have been compensated for the money they wasted on kludgy and ultimately impossible results transmission.

* * * * *

Concepts:

Election transparency: Election transparency is the public ability to see and verify each essential step in elections, the essential steps being: (1) who can vote (voter list), (2) who did vote (poll list, or participating voter list), (3) counting of the vote, and (4) chain of custody. Reasons for transparency with sources: http://blackboxvoting.org/transparency/
All Black Box Voting stories related to election transparency: http://blackboxvoting.org/category/election-transparency/

Freedom of Information (FOI laws) – allow public access to data held by government, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions. Also called open records or sunshine laws. Governments are bound by a duty to publish and promote openness. Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_information_laws_by_country

NOTES:

  1. Better Government Association: a 90 year old anti-corruption watchdog. Full report for all 50 states, with data tables, available here: http://www.bettergov.org/action_policy/bgaalper_services_integrity_index_2013.aspx
  2. Election Risk Rating compiled by Black Box Voting by applying an election integrity taxonomy to public records, news reports, citizen reports and field observations, including the Report by VerifiedVoting.org, Common Cause, and Rutgers University: “Counting Votes 2012: A State by State Look at Election Preparedness” which can be downloaded here: http://countingvotes.org/sites/default/files/CountingVotes2012.pdf
  3. See Kelly Carr and Brian Grow. Special Report: A little house of secrets on the Great Plains, Reuters, 06/28/2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/28/us-usa-shell-companies-idUSTRE75R20Z20110628
  4. Wyoming, Wikipedia, 12/15/2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wyoming
  5. “Counting Votes 2012: A State by State Look at Election Preparedness” http://countingvotes.org/sites/default/files/CountingVotes2012.pdf
  6. Election Day Registration, Common Cause, http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4849117
  7. Josh Rhoten: Did my vote really count?, Wyoming News, 01/31/2011, http://www.wyomingnews.com/articles/2011/01/31/news/19local_01-31-11.txt
  8. Noah Brenner: Trauner applauds Sheridan County recount effort , Jackson Hole News and Guide, 01/07/2007, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/news/top_stories/trauner-applauds-sheridan-county-recount-effort/article_b9e83bae-01c0-5533-9813-d51bca4d05c7.html
  9. http://www.verifiedvoting.org/verifier/
  10. US Election Assistance Commission Research and Data: http://www.eac.gov/research/default.aspx – Note that these data tables contain data of amazing depth and detail, but using them is not for the faint of heart. It requires merging together the data sets for “Election Administration & Voting Survey”, “National Voter Registration Act Studies”, and UOCAVA studies, and the tables contain only cryptic column headers so you need to use either the survey report or data header imports in order to know what you’re looking at. A little onerous for most news reporters, but no problem for spreadsheet wonks.
  11. See Ben Neary: Wyoming Senate moves to restrict records access, Associated Press, 02/20/2012, http://www.htrnews.com/usatoday/article/38620979?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE%7Cs and other articles; the efforts repeat year after year. In a nutshell, the Wyoming Open Records Act was passed in 2003, with a rollback of certain rights passed in 2006; in 2009 the governor attempted to invoke secrecy rights that were struck down by the court in 2010; with successive lobbying efforts by WAM in 2011, and 2013 to lock in right to know exemptions, successfully countered by the Wyoming Press Association; a letter from an attorney for WAM in Dec. 2013 exhorts municipalities to lobby for right to know exemptions.
  12. Laura Hancock: State of Wyoming jets workers to correct Cody polling place issue; Casper Star-Tribune. 11/06/2012; http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/state-of-wyoming-jets-workers-to-correct-cody-polling-issue/article_d8ee7a76-76e4-5b9d-a8c4-307b43c12ee1.html
  13. Ruffin Prevost: Wyoming law requires count and recount by machine, Billings Gazette, Wyoming Bureau, 11/25/2006, http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/wyoming/wyoming-law-requires-count-and-recount-by-machine/article_3f3cb927-c520-56c4-8930-c3f6299f5f72.html
  14. Phuong Le: Wyoming money, Powder River Basin coal shape county election in Washington, The Associated Press, 10/22/2013, http://trib.com/business/energy/wyoming-money-powder-river-basin-coal-shape-county-election-in/article_de3b10cb-2098-53c4-a4e0-1d88895b73c8.html
  15. Kelly Carr and Brian Grow. Special Report: A little house of secrets on the Great Plains, Reuters, 06/28/2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/28/us-usa-shell-companies-idUSTRE75R20Z20110628
  16. Ruffin Prevost: Ranch owners tied to investment scandal , Casper Star-Tribune, 06/11/2009, http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/ranch-owners-tied-to-investment-scandal/article_0f3ac3cf-0e8a-523c-810b-61568f91c4b5.html
  17. Leah Todd: Wyoming state investments official charged with insider trading, Billings Gazette, 03/26/2013, http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/wyoming/wyoming-state-investments-official-charged-with-insider-trading/article_c8341d0c-d50a-547f-8435-5965dbf7f5ac.html
  18. Baylie Evans: County races cost thousands, Wyoming News, 09/04/2010, http://www.wyomingnews.com/articles/2010/09/04/news/19llocal_09-04-10.txt
  19. Joy Ufford: Official election ballots reprinted, Sublette Examiner, 10/22/2012, http://www.subletteexaminer.com/v2_news_articles.php?heading=0&page=72&story_id=2292
  20. Wyoming elections office: Few problems, high turnout, Associated Press, 11/06/2012, http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/wyoming/wyoming-elections-office-few-problems-high-turnout/article_2b13f120-45f1-5210-8196-362f435c3c96.html
  21. Mark Heinz: Park County results delayed by scanning problems, Cody Enterprise, 11/07/2012, http://www.codyenterprise.com/news/local/article_d64ca1ec-292d-11e2-b477-0019bb2963f4.html
  22. Rebecca Martinez : Cody journalist arrested, charged with voting illegally, Wyoming Public Radio, 06/24/2013, http://wyomingpublicmedia.org/post/cody-journalist-arrested-charged-voting-illegally
  23. Josh Rhoten: Did my vote really count?, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, 01/31/2011, http://www.wyomingnews.com/articles/2011/01/31/news/19local_01-31-11.txt
  24. Computer glitches delay results , Casper Star-TribuneCasper Star-Tribune, 11/09/2006, http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/computer-glitches-delay-results/article_be519a51-00e1-5109-b4ca-54bdacaa8bef.html

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