Despite at least two pending cases, reports and prosecutions of illegal voting in Wyoming are rare, state and local elections officials say.
By state Elections Director Peggy Nighswonger’s recollection, you’d have to go back to 2000 to find the previous cases. That was when a former small-town mayor tried voting in both Wyoming and Utah and when some Colorado residents, who owned property in Wyoming, tried voting in a municipal election, Nighswonger said.
Because the cases generally are handled at the local level, Nighswonger said there may be other instances she’s unaware of.
A search of Circuit Court records dating back more than a decade turned up no prior prosecutions of voter fraud in Park County prior to the recent charges against David D. Koch of Cody.
Koch, 38, is facing four felony counts for allegedly registering to vote and then voting in 2010 and 2012 despite two 1996 felony convictions in Alaska.
According to the Gillette News Record, the Campbell County Attorney’s Office is prosecuting a Gillette felon who allegedly voted in 2008, was warned not to vote again, but did in 2012.
Nighswonger said her office received three reports of illegal voting this year — one being Koch’s — and they were the first such reports made directly to the Secretary of State since at least 1996.
Koch’s case came to light after an anonymous man confronted him on a live radio call-in show Koch hosted in January. It’s unclear whether the caller is the same person who reported the alleged illegal voting to the Secretary of State’s office.
Of the three reports, Koch’s was the only one made by a private citizen, Nighswonger said, as government employees made the other two. The other reports remain under investigation, she said.
A statewide voter registration system that began in 2006 alerts elections officials to Wyoming felons who have registered to vote.
“It’s a little easier to find those people now than it used to be,” Nighswonger said.
However, the database does not include convictions from other states, “which is too bad,” she said. For that reason, Koch’s convictions in Alaska would not have raised any flags in the database.
In addition to not screening out-of-state felonies, “with same-day (voter) registration, it’s kind of hard” to pre-screen felons, said Park County Clerk Jerri Torczon.
Former Park County Clerk Kelly Jensen, who served from 2007-2010, couldn’t recall many specifics, but remembered a limited number of instances where individuals would register and vote on Election Day and later be flagged by the database. Same-day registration is intended to make it easier for people to vote, but it also creates an opportunity for people who aren’t allowed to vote, Jensen said.
“Presumably, that’s an extremely small percentage of the voting public,” she added.
The individuals flagged by the database — perhaps a couple per election cycle — would be referred to the county attorney’s office for review, Jensen said.
Jensen remembered referring one report about a man who had an apparent Wyoming felony conviction and had voted in multiple elections.
Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric did not recall that incident from the vague description and, with Jensen unable to remember the individual’s name, could not find a record of it.
Jensen and Torczon each said that after a name pops up, research still is needed to determine whether the individual’s record has been expunged or their rights reinstated; Skoric said with the individual recalled by Jensen, it’s possible they ended up checking out OK and no prosecution was warranted.
“I prosecute violations of the laws passed by the Legislature,” Skoric said.
Since taking over as clerk in 2011, Torczon recalled one instance in which her office questioned a voter’s registration and had him use a provisional ballot. She said officials later learned the Powell-area man was not a felon.
Members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee decided in May that they would not pursue tougher voter identification laws. Minutes of the meeting say Nighswonger had noted the lack of reported voter fraud in remarks to the committee.
Also during the meeting, Linda Burt of the Wyoming chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union told lawmakers there’s a trend among states to let felons vote once they’ve completed their sentence and parole; Burt suggested it’s a tool for rehabilitation.
Wyoming is one of 11 states that generally bans felons from voting again, according to the ACLU; the others allow felons to vote after they complete their sentence or sooner.