By Sheila McGuire
Uinta County Herald
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
EVANSTON — The special prosecutor appointed to investigate whether or not criminal charges should be filed in the case of alleged illegal voting at the Uinta County Republican Party leadership elections in March has declined to prosecute.
Sublette County Attorney Michael Crosson reviewed the evidence in the case after Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas requested a special prosecutor to avoid conflict of interest because she herself is a registered Uinta County Republican.
According to a letter from Crosson to Howieson-Kallas shared with the Herald by Lyle Williams, one of those accused of illegally voting, Crosson said he had reviewed the affidavit of Special Agent Justin Mathson with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, as well as the bylaws of the Wyoming Republican Party and Uinta County Republican Party, applicable statutes, correspondence from various interested persons and the civil matter filed in Third District Court.
The criminal investigation began after a member of the Uinta County Republican Party, Jon Conrad, filed a complaint with the state regarding the party leadership elections held in March.
Conrad, who was running for party chair, claimed Williams and three other individuals had illegally been allowed to vote at those elections, in which Conrad lost to Elisabeth “Biffy” Jackson, Williams’ daughter.
The state referred the matter to the Uinta County Clerk, as a local issue; subsequently, Amanda Hutchinson, county clerk, requested that the county attorney’s office investigate. As the various government entities were referring the matter for investigation, Conrad and several other plaintiffs — including State Rep. Danny Eyre, R-Lyman, and State Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, former Bear River Mayor Troy Nolan, former legislator Ron Micheli, and Clarence and Clara Vranish — filed a civil suit claiming that the illegal voting resulted in invalid elections and asking that those results be discarded and a new election undertaken.
The plaintiffs claimed that Williams, Jackson, Karl Allred and Janalee Williams all voted illegally because they were not precinct committeemen and committeewomen at the time of the election, as they had all lost when on the ballot in 2020.
While both state and county bylaws of the Republican party allow precinct committeemen and committeewomen and elected officials to vote in county local elections, state statute allows only for members of the county central committee to vote.
Elsewhere in statute, the county central committee is defined as precinct committeemen and committeewomen.
Plaintiffs have argued in court documents that the Williamses, Jackson and Allred were therefore ineligible to vote, while the defendants have argued they were elected officials of the party and were, in fact, eligible to vote.
In his letter, Sublette County Attorney Crosson stated he was declining to prosecute and had found that, “While my interpretation of Wyoming Statute 22-4-105 is that the legislature most likely intended that only members of the county central committee should cast votes to select state committeeman and committeewoman and other offices as provided by party bylaws, and thus the letter of the law was probably violated, this conclusion is not absolute.”
Crosson goes on to detail the differences between party bylaws and state statute and notes that the individuals in question were not precinct committee members but were seated elected county party officials at the time of voting.
Crosson states that state statutes “trump bylaws of political organizations;” however, he also states that nothing in the statute specifically precludes “the central committee from authorizing members of the county party executive committee to cast votes to seat members of that committee.”
Crosson also states that, although party bylaws do not trump statute, “they are not completely devoid of importance of force and effect either, and county political parties must be left to conduct their affairs without undue interference from prosecutors. There are many legal mechanisms statutory and otherwise to address elected related grievances through civil process.”
Ultimately, Crosson declined to prosecute and noted that, “A necessary element which must be proved by the state in both statutes is that the conduct be willfully or knowingly done. In this case I cannot reach the conclusion that any individual willfully or knowingly violated the election code.”
While the criminal matter appears to be concluded, the civil suit is still active. Third District Court Judge Joseph Bluemel declined to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the officers of the county party from taking any action in those roles; however, the case itself is still making its way through the court system.