Park County GOP delegate in doubt

Posted 3/13/12

“It’s to be determined,” said State Republican Chairwoman Tammy Hooper of Park County’s delegate in a brief interview on Monday.

Hooper said the matter is being mulled by a committee of Republican National Committee officials who handle …

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Park County GOP delegate in doubt


Santorum win challenged

The Wyoming Republican Party’s Presidential delegate selection process is, when running smoothly, complex and potentially confusing. But at Park County’s Republican convention Saturday, it was much more so.

Park County Republican Party officials initially declared a Rick Santorum delegate to the Republican National Convention the winner after a poll of convention delegates, then realized he hadn’t received a majority and announced they’d made a mistake.

A second run-off vote was then held and narrowly went to a Mitt Romney delegate, but those results were then voided because of errors in the way ballots were distributed and confusing instructions that resulted in one man apparently voting twice.

The Santorum delegate then narrowly won a third vote and was declared the winner — only to have Romney’s campaign launch a legal challenge.

“It’s to be determined,” said State Republican Chairwoman Tammy Hooper of Park County’s delegate in a brief interview on Monday.

Hooper said the matter is being mulled by a committee of Republican National Committee officials who handle contested delegates and is out of her hands.

Hooper did not know how long that process would take.

“I’m sure just like anything, they try to do it as expeditiously as possible,” while also trying to perform due diligence, she said.

Park County GOP Chair Geri Hockhalter said at the convention that the county leadership stands by the results of the third vote.

Citing “so many irregularities” with the second vote, “I don’t think we had a choice but to have a third one,” said Cody Republican Sam Krone, who was the parliamentarian for the convention.

“Nothing against Romney, nothing against Rick Santorum, it’s just a matter of fairness,” Krone said at the end of Saturday’s convention. “We didn’t know how many ballots were out, it was trying to hurry, so I think it was the right thing to do.”

Romney won Park County’s straw poll in late February but the poll had no bearing in determining delegates.

It takes 1,144 delegates for a GOP contender to clinch the Republican nomination. Romney won seven of the 12 delegates up for grabs in Wyoming last week, while Santorum won three — if he gets Park County — and Ron Paul one. The other delegate was uncommitted. Another 14 delegates will be chosen at the state party convention in April.

In the convention process, convention-goers do not vote for a presidential candidate, but rather for delegates representing the different candidates.

Park County GOP voters were asked to choose between two individuals supporting Romney — Jason Whitman and Charles Cloud, both of Cody, Santorum supporter Sheila Leach of Cody and Hank Whitelock, a Paul supporter in Cody who was running as an “uncommitted” delegate.

The first vote gave Leach (Santorum) 17 votes, followed by 15 for Cloud (Romney), 13 for Whitman (also Romney) and 11 for Whitelock (uncommitted). Two ballots were spoiled.

After announcing those results, Hockhalter declared Leach the winner. However, a little later, it was noted that a delegate must win a majority of the ballots cast.

The second vote

So another vote was held, with volunteers passing out blank pieces of paper.

Whitelock, as the lowest vote-getter, was dropped from consideration and Whitman chose to drop out of the running in an apparent attempt to pool the Romney vote.

While the ballots were being distributed, the decision was made that voters should write down their voting credential number on their ballots, to ensure that, with people coming and going, no ineligible voters were casting ballots.

While waiting for the votes to come back, those at the convention got into a disagreement about whether they should order pizza or just break for lunch. Ordering pizza passed on standing vote of about 26-10.

One attendee called the ongoing discord “comical,” another “embarrassing.”

Shortly after that, the results came back from the second vote on the county’s national convention delegate.

This time, Cloud, the Romney supporter, had won 28-26 over Leach, the Santorum supporter. Three people abstained.

Hockhalter then pronounced Cloud the winner, sending the county’s delegate to Romney.

But Santorum supporters then cried foul, noting that ballots had been distributed to people who weren’t eligible voters.

The third vote

Anyone is allowed to watch the proceedings of the convention, but only Republican precinct committeemen and women — chosen during the 2010 primary election — and others selected as county convention delegates during the Feb. 28 precinct caucuses were eligible to vote.

Only delegates were supposed to get ballots, but it appeared at least some volunteers were passing out ballots to everyone in the Cody library room; as one example, a Tribune reporter was mistakenly given a ballot. The reporter did not vote, and there were no reports of any non-delegates having voted, but it was noted that people could have voted and left.

On top of that, one man said he had apparently voted twice in the confusion leading up the second vote — once before instructions were given to include his voting credential number on his ballot and again with his number included.

Lyle Evelo of Powell then made a motion to re-vote between the top two candidates and be sure each individual used their anonymous credentialing number.

Colin Simpson, a Cody Republican and former Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives spoke in opposition.

“I think that those people who voted, voted the first time and were properly credentialed. Why do you even have to put your number on a ballot? If it’s a free election and confidential then...” Simpson said.

The man who had potentially voted twice supported a new vote.

“If both of those ballots were counted ... then this (new) election should pass,” he said.

The motion did indeed pass, getting a narrow majority of about 31 voters, and ballots were handed out once again.

Hockhalter questioned the legality of re-voting — “We lost voters,” she said — before reading the results. There were 58 ballots cast in the first vote, 57 in the second and 56 in the third.

When the last results were read, Santorum’s delegate, Leach, had taken 29 votes to 27 for Romney’s delegate, Cloud.

“So we send our delegate from Park County, Wyoming for Rick Santorum,” Hockhalter said.

But a couple hours later, she announced the results were being challenged by Romney’s campaign.

Hockhalter said the campaign — supported by the opinion of state Republican party’s legal counsel — was contending that holding a third vote was illegal and the county GOP was wrong to uphold those results.

Mark Bablitz, a Clark resident and Ron Paul supporter, later read a statement saying he didn’t appreciate “the heavy-handed bullying that the Romney campaign committee is attempting to impose on us,” saying that, “all this is is New York lawyers trying to bully us around.”

The nominees

Bablitz, threw his name in as a Paul delegate, but withdrew before the first ballots were cast.

Leach said in her speech before the first vote that she was supporting Santorum because of his stances on social issues, such as his opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.

While not wanting to diminish the importance of jobs, the economy and the country’s skyrocketing debt, “with a firm moral foundation, the economy would not be in as nearly as much of a mess that it’s in,” Leach said.

She said Santorum has shown resilience in a race “which appears to be far from over,” and called him a “man of uncommon courage.”

“He does not parse his words in order to attract from both sides of an issue,” Leach said.

Whitman, outlining his support for Romney, described the former Massachusetts governor as an extremely successful businessman, an extremely successful governor despite leading a liberal state and someone who could beat Democratic President Barack Obama.

Cloud, a Cody city councilman and the husband of state auditor Cynthia Cloud, had not initially been on the ballot, but got on at the convention. Cloud mentioned that he was a Romney supporter in his pitch, but talked primarily about making sure Park County and Wyoming’s voice was heard at the national convention.

Whitelock — who caucused for Paul last month — told his fellow Republicans that after looking at polls, Super Tuesday results and results of Wyoming’s straw poll (where Paul finished third), “I don’t feel that I can honestly commit 100 percent to any of the candidates.” However, Whitelock said he wanted to go to the national convention to work on the party’s platforms and resolutions.

Irene Potter of Cody, a Newt Gingrich supporter, was going to speak on his behalf, but didn’t want to be a delegate to August’s national convention in Tampa Bay.

Being a delegate costs at least $2,000 for registration and a hotel room — plus travel expenses and food, Hockhalter said.

Nationwide, Romney has 454 delegates, Santorum 217, Gingrich 107 and Paul 44, according to The Associated Press.