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Buchanan to depart early; state's top elections official won't oversee November election

CASPER — Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan is set to assume his judgeship next month, leaving his office with three months remaining on his term.

The departure means Wyoming’s top elections official will be gone before the general election in November. It will also mean an interim secretary of state will need to be appointed until the candidate that wins the election takes office in January.

Buchanan told the Star-Tribune that it “looks like” he will depart Sept. 15. He will take the bench on Sept. 19, WyoFile first reported.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, won the Republican nomination earlier this month. He is not facing an independent or Democratic challenger in the fall, making it almost certain he will coast to victory in the general election.

The Wyoming Republican Central Committee will be responsible for nominating three candidates to replace Buchanan. Gov. Mark Gordon will then select one of them to serve in an interim capacity.

The Wyoming Constitution appears to block the possibility that Gray could be appointed to the position before January. That’s because Gray is still serving as a state representative.

The state’s constitution says that “No senator or representative shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the state, and no member of congress or other person holding an office (except that of notary public or an office in the militia) ...”

So even if Gray were to resign as a state lawmaker, his elected term would still be ongoing.

“It’s ‘during the term for which he was elected’ so [a resignation] doesn’t cure that,” said Matt Obrecht, director of the state’s Legislative Service Office. “That’s one interpretation of that.”

A 2010 memorandum drawn up by the Legislative Service Office had the same interpretation.

“... Resignation from the current term would not allow appointment to the civil office until after the end of the current term,” the memo read.

That said, that clause appears to never have been challenged in court, so it hasn’t undergone a formal legal interpretation, according to Obrecht and the 2010 memo.

Gray did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

It was previously not clear when Buchanan was going to start his position as a judge. A press release announcing his appointment from earlier this month said that he planned to remain in the office “to fulfill his forthcoming duties and ensure a smooth transition” before joining the court.

It was phrased in a vague way “to ensure that the secretary had flexibility to do his election duties,” said Michael Pearlman, spokesperson for the governor.

“We had to coordinate a lot of moving parts between [secretary of state] and Judiciary to find a window to make the transition. The end of term was the idea but as you can imagine we had to coordinate [the] schedule of the retiring Judge, coordinate coverage for cases, get through the primary election, canvassing etc,” Buchanan said in a text message to the Star-Tribune.

After Buchanan formally resigns, Gordon must alert Wyoming GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne, who is responsible for running the central committee meeting.

Eathorne then has 15 days to call a meeting of the state central committee to vote on three candidates. Once that happens, Gordon is statutorily required to make a decision in five days.

The central committee is made up of three Republicans — a chairman, a committee woman and a committeeman — from each county.

When Jillian Balow, the former superintendent of public instruction, resigned earlier this year, the central committee also voted on three options for her replacement.

The superintendent vote was the subject of a lawsuit that argued the Wyoming GOP used an “unconstitutional” process to select the nominees because it did not adhere to the “one-person, one-vote” provision. That, the suit reasoned, was due to each county getting the same number of votes despite their differences in population.

But U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl wrote that the plaintiffs could not “demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits because the case law does not support their position,” clearing the way for Gordon to appoint a superintendent.

Following the 2020 election, Buchanan launched a statewide education campaign that stressed that Wyoming elections were safe and secure. Gray, meanwhile, ran as an election skeptic, saying he would fight voter fraud.

Statistics show voter fraud is exceedingly rare in Wyoming.

Regarding the 2020 presidential election, Gray said that there was more fraud than the margin of votes between Biden and Trump. He pushed to ban ballot drop boxes, which have become a target after the movie “2,000 Mules” was released, a film that alleges that widespread voter fraud occurred in the 2020 presidential election. The lawmaker sponsored numerous showings of the movie throughout Wyoming while on the campaign trail.

This story was published on August 31, 2022.