Laramie County GOP leadership warns of disenfranchisement

CHEYENNE — As Wyoming Republican Party convention officials decide whether to seat the Laramie County delegation at the state convention, county party leaders warn that more than 20,000 party members could be disenfranchised. 

The State Credentials Committee will announce its decision at a May 5 meeting and make a recommendation to be discussed May 7 on the convention floor. 

“Following Laramie County leadership’s admission of its failures to follow Bylaws in conducting the election, the State Republican Convention’s Credentials Committee will now review the matter and make a recommendation to the body as to how many delegates from Laramie County will be seated,” Chairman Frank Eathorne said in a news release.  

The motion was called for at the start of April after a complaint by Laramie County precinct committeeman and Central Committee member Ben Hornok, who questioned whether delegates set to attend the state convention had been properly nominated at the Laramie County Convention on March 12. 

In his March 28 letter to the Laramie County GOP Executive Committee, Hornok claimed voting procedures for delegates and alternates to serve at the state convention did not follow county and state GOP bylaws. 

He cited the form of secret ballot, additional delegates being allowed to be nominated from the floor, and the delegate and alternate ranking system. 

The State Executive Committee passed a motion requesting Laramie County Chairwoman Dani Olsen respond by April 1. She agreed the concerns were legitimate. 

She told committee members in a letter that the process used in years past, and in the recent county convention, did not fully follow the rules. 

Upon reflection, the Laramie County Executive Committee will recommend a cleanup of some of the ambiguities in the delegate and alternate selection portion of the bylaws, she said. 

The local party asked for grace on the error because, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, the election can only be contested by timely raising a point of order. 

“We ask there to be assurance from the State Executive Committee that our delegates and alternates who attend the Convention in Sheridan will have the opportunity to participate, as they will be sacrificing time and financial resources to attend the Convention in May,” the letter ended. 

Olsen told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Wednesday the only flaw in the election process was how alternates were chosen. The nominating committee took the names and added the delegates to a list of people who were confirmed to attend, which was in accordance with local and state party regulations.

But since the state convention was only allowing 350 members to attend, the number of delegates allowed to go was lower. Thirty-seven spots were filled, and there were more than 40 individuals who expressed interest. Members of the nominating committee wanted as many as possible to have the opportunity, so they put the remaining individuals on the alternate list. 

The slate was presented and approved at the county convention. The next step was filling the potential alternates. 

Following the bylaws, Olsen said they took nominations from the floor by voice vote, which is considered a form of secret ballot. The body approved the next slate of alternates, and the complainant Hornok was included. 

Olsen said she recognized the issue was that the Laramie County GOP did not rank the alternates based on order of votes received, because they approved them as a whole. But at the time of the vote, she recalled, there were no objections. They instead put them in the order they were nominated. 

“Election integrity is a top issue among voters after the 2020 elections and has been the number one legislative priority for the Wyoming GOP for the last three years,” the state party said in a statement. “The Wyoming Republican Party is working hard to safeguard its internal activities and maintain the highest standards of transparency and integrity. No other complaints about county conventions have been brought before the State Executive Committee.” 

The Laramie County Republican Party said it is aware of at least eight other counties that have made similar infractions. 

“We can only hope that the other counties will be able to hold themselves to the same high standard Laramie County has been held to, and they will come forward with their own admission of errors, as we have done,” the county GOP press release stated. “While Laramie County believes all counties should be seated, if the Credentials Committee does not look equally at violations of all counties, it will show bias and an unfair application of the rules.” 

A larger concern shared by Olsen and other county party members is the motivation of the investigation and the possible disenfranchisement of more than 20,000 Laramie County Republicans. 

The county chairwoman said this would happen not only if Laramie County delegates were not allowed to attend and vote on state party leadership, as well as nominations, but in reducing the number of attendees overall. 

She said it was unprecedented that the number was lowered from 550 to 350, when historically there has always been a set amount, and the venue could accommodate a larger convention. 

“It was unusual that they would even reduce their own income potential by having such a low number, but the only justification I could find was to reduce the vote of the larger counties,” she said. 

Laramie County GOP member Mike Heath told the WTE he was also worried voices would be lost in the process, and not just in Laramie County. 

He highlighted the fact that the Natrona County GOP lost delegate representation at the state convention because it did not pay its full share of dues, which he said is difficult for members who fund their own expenses. 

Olsen confirmed Natrona County was supposed to have 34 delegates but was reduced to six.

The changes within the state convention representation and complaints have stirred Heath’s apprehension. He said he is concerned the divisiveness he is seeing within the party might destroy it, because even members of the local Republican Party have asked for their own delegates not to be seated.

Laramie County Republican Party members Susan Graham and Fred Schlachter said in an April 9 letter that they did not approve of the method for pre-nominating a slate of people as delegates and alternates. 

“We request and support a decision by the Credentialing Committee to not seat this year’s delegates to the Wyoming GOP State Convention from Laramie County,” the letter stated. “Either we are a nation of laws, and all citizens are equal under the law, or we are not. Let us bring the Rule of Law back to Wyoming, starting with the Wyoming State GOP’s ruling to NOT seat Laramie County’s delegates.” 

Graham and Schlachter are alleged to be members of a group called the Conservative Corner, along with Hornok, which has had previous disagreements with the Laramie County Republican Party. 

Although they remain members of the county delegation, Olsen said the group takes a more divisive approach to government and is critical of the county party. 

She said their largest frustration has been with members not being conservative enough, because the Laramie County GOP is more inclusive of all ranges of Republicanism. 

“And because of the fact that we are inclusive, it does tend to cause tension among people who don’t believe we should be as inclusive as we are,” Olsen said. 

While she recognized the division among the ranks, she did not confirm whether she thought this was the motivation behind the complaint. Her focus was on which bylaws the Laramie County GOP may have broken, and the possible repercussions.

She said she wanted to protect the representation of county Republicans at the state convention moving forward and disapproved of the process in which the state party made it public.

This was a sentiment shared in the final lines of the statement released by her fellow leadership. (The Wyoming GOP did not comment.)

“It is a shame that the Chairman of the State Party would use his position to spout falsehoods as a means of not seating the largest county in Wyoming, and thereby disenfranchising over 20,000 Republican voices in Laramie County,” it read. “It is further alarming that while the State Executive Committee is passing motions to ‘vigorously enforce Bylaws’ that it has consistently stopped its enforcement efforts with only two counties – Laramie and Natrona counties.”