CODY — South Fork resident Boone Tidwell is fed up with voting machines.
“We need to put elections back in the hands of the body,” he said. “I’m not pointing my finger at anybody. People have serious anxiety and concerns over election security.”
In an effort to “restore the confidence of their vote” to electors, Tidwell hopes to test the feasibility of running a hand-count election in Park County. To do this, he hopes to provide education and a testing ground, by holding mock elections at local high schools where students can simultaneously be taught an American civics lesson and also be used as test subjects to help orchestrate his study.
“It puts kids in the polling booth and they do have to put their hands in,” Tidwell said.
Using replica ballots from the 2020 election cycle, students would have the opportunity to experience the voting process, while adult volunteers from local communities would process and hand-count their ballots. Students would get to see the tabulation process take place and gain some familiarity with lesser-known, local races.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to see the process in action,” said Scott McBride, principal of the Meeteetse Schools.
He said he supports the idea and is open to doing it in the schools.
Tidwell said he would then extrapolate the time and manpower it takes to tabulate the ballots into a county-sized scale. He said he would expect to draw around 200 students -- mostly American Government students – at Cody High School.
Hans Odde, deputy Park County clerk, said for the last election held in 2020, the county had around 135 election judges to help oversee the 16,815 ballots that were cast. Since then, the Park County population has grown, with about 100 more registered voters in the Cody area since spring 2021, Odde said at a recent county commissioners’ meeting. Tidwell said he expects so many volunteers to help with his project he may have to turn people away.
In Wyoming, people can volunteer to assist with elections at age 16.
Tidwell and members of the Park County Republican Men’s Club, which is collaborating on the project, have met with the principals of Cody, Powell, and Meeteetse high schools to propose their idea.
“Anytime you can give high school students the practice of participating in an election, I think that’s valuable,” said Cody High School Principal Jeremiah Johnston.
Johnston said he needs to confer with Powell School District officials about their thoughts on the matter, including the issue of whether such an activity could be enacted successfully without other politically charged motives coming into play.
“I certainly would not want that,” he said. “The reason for the students to be part of this is getting the kids to understand how an election works.”
Powell High School Principal Tim Wormald said he supports doing the project, saying as long as there’s no political connection it’s a good experience for the students. He plans on having 60 American Government students participate.
Tidwell and fellow Cody resident Dave McMillan, a committeeman in the Park County Republican Party, presented their proposal to the Park County Democratic Party on Saturday, where they weren’t met with much enthusiasm.
“The Park County Democrats have confidence in the integrity of the current election system,” said Jan Kliewer, a Powell resident who is the newly appointed chairman of the Party.
Tidwell plans to make a presentation to the Park County Republican Party at its meeting Thursday night.
Tidwell said he does not trust any voting machine, or any machine, connected to the internet.
When a similar sentiment was brought before the county Republican Party in February 2021, Park County Clerk Colleen Renner defended the security of the 2020 election. Around that time the Wyoming GOP passed a resolution rejecting the use of electronic voting systems, although the resolution didn’t say what would be best to use.
“To question the integrity of the election in Wyoming would be to question the integrity of thousands of Wyoming citizens who served as election judges,” Renner said.
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan has agreed, when he spoke to the Natrona County Republican Party in late January, denying the 2020 elections were rigged in Wyoming.
“[Elections] are not routine anymore because of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation. Now it’s easy to cry foul with no real evidence, at least in Wyoming,” Buchanan said at the meeting, according to the Casper Star Tribune.
The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office has similar language to this on its website, and even has an Election Integrity and Security page dedicated to providing ways for constituents to combat misinformation regarding the election.
Odde said he has received no questions from Tidwell or any member from the Men’s Club about how the county would implement a hand-count election, about the county’s current election security, or about how it conducts its elections. He said Park County’s elections are not connected to the internet in any way aside from the posting of final results.
A local canvassing board made up by one Democrat, one Republican and Renner certify the results on a local level. These results are emailed to a state canvassing board, which certifies the results on a state level.
Buchanan denied that the Elections Systems and Software voting machines the state uses are connected to the internet, and that although the machines can technically be physically breached, there are a number of extensive security measures in place to prevent this from happening.
Voting machines do not have a flawless record.
ES&S, Dominion Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic, which dominate the American voting machine market, have all said they put modems in some of their tabulators and scanners so that unofficial election results can be determined faster. These modems connect to cellphone networks and are protected by a firewall.
In the 2018 Georgia governor’s race, ES&S-owned technology was in use when more than 150,000 voters inexplicably did not cast a vote for lieutenant governor, according to ProPublica.
Buchanan is working with the University of Wyoming to audit ballots from all 23 counties – as it does after every election – to verify the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
“We’re going to strengthen our elections,” Odde said. “We’re all on board with that.”
Park County also performs a test run before each election to ensure all of its machines are working effectively.
Tidwell said it’s naive to think there wasn’t election fraud in Wyoming despite the fact that former President Donald Trump won by a larger margin in Wyoming than any other state. Trump has made many claims without any proven evidence that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Tidwell said he has attempted to draw attention to election fraud in Wyoming by reaching out to prominent election skeptics throughout the country.
Tidwell, a 17-year Park County resident who has never served as an election judge, said he does not identify as a Republican or Democrat, but did vote for Trump. Before that, he said he voted for Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012.
Tidwell said he sees his plan as a call for immediate action, rather than waiting to get involved in the November 2022 election.
“We need to get our hands back in the political process,” Tidwell.
One of the leading criticisms of voting machines is they can be hacked remotely, a highly unlikely but possible act.
“Anything’s possible, not probable,” Buchanan said.
Tidwell said it would be his preference to move away from voting machines entirely, but is open to other solutions.
“It’s not that there aren’t other solutions on the table,” Tidwell said. “If something else comes around that restores my confidence I’ll take it.”
Efficiency is the primary reason voting technology has evolved over the years.
According to ProPublica, the first American patents for voting machines were approved in the late 1800s. Machines with push buttons for each candidate rose to the top, seen as the solution to rampant vote buying.
In 1957, the Wyoming State Legislature permitted the use of automated voting machines in the Cowboy State, according to the State Archives.
Punch card voting developed in the 1960s, allowing voters to punch holes in cards to select candidates with a “ballot marking device.” Around 2004, the State of Wyoming started transitioning to digital voting machines.
Odde said one of the biggest reasons from moving away from the non-digital machines is to have a verifiable paper trail that is not possible with the older, lever-controlled devices.
In 2020, the State signed a $5.4 million contract with ES&S to provide the entire state with voting machines, which was the only type of voting machine used in 2020. Park County received these machines for free from the State.
Wyoming state law does not forbid hand-count elections.
A small number of communities throughout the country perform hand-count elections and according to the Concord Monitor, almost half the polling places in New Hampshire hand-count their ballots.
In that state, the Monitor reports Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would outlaw ballot-counting devices and require that all ballots be counted by hand.
Tidwell said he believes Wyoming can lead the nation restoring faith in elections, and hopes to present his project before the Park County commissioners soon.
In 2020 Tidwell made efforts and presented before the Park County commissioners his desire to organize a local militia in response to the civil unrest occurring in cities throughout the U.S.
“This is not a Boone Tidwell thing, it’s a voter-confidence thing,” he said. “Let’s prove it.”