Caucuses signal start of 2024 election cycle

Nathan Oster

In the last presidential election held in 2020, Big Horn County voters went to the polls in record numbers, with 3,268 residents casting ballots in the primary and a whopping 5,784 doing so in the general.
2024 has the potential to top those figures — not only in Big Horn County but across the nation. Republicans will begin the process of nominating a candidate to challenge President Joe Biden at caucuses in Iowa on January 15 and New Hampshire on January 23.
And at the county level, voters will be tasked with selecting federal and state legislators, filling one seat on the county commission now held by Bruce Jolley, and choosing candidates to serve in numerous municipal and special district posts.
As part of the newspaper’s look ahead to 2024, Big Horn County Clerk Lori Smallwood was recently asked about changes since the 2022 elections, what candidates need to know about filing and what voters need to know before requesting absentee ballots or going to the polls.
The two most significant dates on the election day are August 20, which is the primary election, and November 5, which is the general election.
Candidates who wish to file for the partisan and municipal seats that appear on the primary election ballot can do so between May 16 and May 31. To file for a nonpartisan post such as a seat on a school, hospital, rural health or cemetery board, those filing dates are August 7 through August 26.
Smallwood said the biggest difference between this upcoming election cycle and recent ones is that voters will no longer be allowed to switch parties at the polls, nor will they be allowed to change parties after the filing deadline. That makes May 15 the final day to do so.
“There are a lot of questions about this, and we are hoping that the Secretary of State will do a large public education campaign when we get closer to spring,” said Smallwood.
In a memo to county clerks, Secretary of State Chuck Gray cited the following examples to explain how they should interpret House Enrolled Act 70. The legislation, referred to as “Political party affiliation declaration and changes,” became law March 2, 2023.
Gray’s memo reads as follows:
“John is registered to vote in Johnson County as a Democrat. On June 1, John requests to change his affiliation from Democrat to Republican. This shall not be allowed.
“Rachel is registered to vote in Washakie County, but is unaffiliated. On June 1, Rachel requests to affiliate with the Democratic Party to vote in the Democratic primary. This shall not be allowed.
“Jane is registered to vote in Albany County as a Libertarian. On the date of the primary election, she requests to cancel her party affiliation at the polls, and re-register as a Democrat. This shall not be allowed.
“Sam turns 18 on June 1. On the date of the primary election, he registers for the first time as a Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary election. This shall be allowed.
“Joni is a registered Republican but she cancels her voter registration on May 2. Joni re-registers to vote on August 1 as a Democrat. Joni shall be allowed to register as a Democrat and vote as a Democrat in the primary election.
“Jim is over the age of 18, but is not registered to vote in Crook County. He registers to vote on August 1 as a Republican. Jim shall be allowed to register as a Republican and vote as a Republican in the primary election.”
Smallwood said, “I anticipate despite (the Secretary of State’s office or my) best efforts at public education this will be a tough thing for our election judges this year. Voters are so used to how it has always been that many will be very upset when they are not allowed this opportunity in August at the polls.”
Smallwood said Wyoming’s county clerks “will have multiple meetings over the next few months about continuity to ensure we are all doing things the best way possible, protecting our citizens’ right to vote and ensuring the best security and accuracy possible.
“We all take our duties seriously and work together as an amazing 23-county association.”

Smallwood said several steps have been taken in recent years to make elections more secure.
“Some of the highlights regarding physical security include the replacement of election equipment statewide in 2020,” she said. “New technology always has security improvements, and this equipment is no different.
“Beyond the new equipment we have also instituted a lot more access control and chain of custody documents. All of our election equipment is under 24 /7 video surveillance and each piece of equipment has a chain of custody log that indicates every time the machine was touched, what was done to the machine and when, as well as an internal electronic audit log that will correspond.”
During the 2022 election, a post-election audit designed by the Secretary of State’s office and University of Wyoming was instituted. It has now become part of statewide election procedures, she said.
“Our audit in 2022 showed no errors or anomalies in the primary or general election processing or results tabulation,” said Smallwood.
The county does not intend to utilize ballot drop boxes this year or in the future.
“Despite the fact that our two drop boxes (courthouse and Lovell Annex) are secure and also under 24/7 video surveillance, there is concern, so these conveniences will not be utilized during the upcoming election.”