Commissioners approve precinct consolidation over GOP objection

Posted 4/11/24

Over objections from local Republican officials, Park County commissioners have consolidated some voting precincts in Powell and Cody to align them with city wards.

The proposal to consolidate …

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Commissioners approve precinct consolidation over GOP objection


Over objections from local Republican officials, Park County commissioners have consolidated some voting precincts in Powell and Cody to align them with city wards.

The proposal to consolidate precincts was brought by elections staff as a way to make the process less complicated for voters and more efficient for election judges, who will have seven fewer ballot types to deal with in the primary election, said Park County First Deputy Clerk Hans Odde.

In Powell, precinct 9-2 has merged into 9-1 to follow the boundary of Powell City Council Ward 1, with 9-4 merging into 9-5 and following the boundary of Ward 2.

Within the city of Cody, precinct 2-2 has been merged into 2-1 and will follow the boundary of that city’s Ward 1; 24-2 and 24-3 merged into 24-1 and to match Ward 2; and 25-2 and 25-3 merged into 25-1 to follow the boundary of Ward 3.

The change will have some impact on races for precinct committee positions within the Park County Republican and Democratic parties.

In each primary election, GOP and Democratic voters in each precinct elect at least one committeeman and one committeewoman, with an additional pair for every 250 votes or major fraction thereof cast in the last general election for their party's candidate for U.S. representative. Precinct committeemen and committeewomen govern the local parties by serving on their central committee, setting their party’s platform and stances on the issues.

As a result of the consolidation, the Park County Democratic Party will go from having 29 pairs of precinct committeemen and committeewomen down to 22. That will theoretically shrink the party’s central committee, but the actual impact may be limited, as only 13 of the existing 58 positions are currently filled. Park County Democratic Party Chair Ann Pasek told commissioners that the local party supports the change.

As for the Park County Republican Party, it will continue to have 43 precinct pairs, for a total of 86 elected positions on the central committee; according to county records, 11 of those GOP seats were vacant as of late February.

At last week’s commission meeting, multiple Republicans pushed back on the proposal, including Park County GOP State Committeeman Vince Vanata. Speaking on behalf of the party, Vanata said consolidating precincts harms both major parties by enabling precinct committee people to be more concentrated in certain areas of Powell and Cody.

“By having more precincts we have more of a diverse input of people in those municipalities,” Vanata said.

Park County Republican Party Chairman Martin Kimmet said the change would hurt the grassroots nature of county politics.

“We would not like Wyoming joined with Montana or one of our neighboring states just for convenience,” he said, adding that he hadn’t yet spoken to anyone who was in favor of the consolidation. “Please let us keep the power at the grassroots level.”

Republican State Committeewoman Karen Jones said not only would consolidation harm local Republican electors, who represent the vast majority of voters in the county, but that it violated state statute.

“Republicans will lose multiple distinctly situated precincts,” she said. “There could be people representing them not from their own areas. Consolidation is counter to statute and harms the grassroot Republicans.”

Secretary of State Chuck Gray also weighed in once again on a Park County election matter, sending a letter to commissioners ahead of the meeting opposing the consolidation.

“I am a strong believer in precinct voting, and believe our republic is built on ensuring adequate representation from those closest to the people, at all levels,” Gray wrote in part, adding, “I share the concerns that consolidation of precinct boundaries and the corresponding reduction in precinct committeemen and women will adversely impact local representation.”

While the local Democratic Party will see a reduction in the number of precinct committee people, the Republican Party will not.

Odde mentioned that, even if the commissioners nixed the consolidation, precincts 9-1 and 9-2 in Powell were still going to collectively lose a pair of precinct people while precincts 25-1, 25-2, and 25-3 in Cody would gain a pair; that was due to the votes cast for U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) in those precincts in the 2022 general election.

Odde also noted that some of the precinct positions remain unfilled, and he said consolidation would allow for a larger pool of potential candidates for the seats.

In the August 2022 primary election, no Republicans filed for the 9-1 and 9-2 precinct seats in Powell. The positions wound up being filled by write-in votes, with the winners receiving between one and 14 votes.

However, there was more interest in the other consolidated precincts. In 9-4 and 9-5 in Powell, eight GOP candidates ran for eight seats. Over in Cody, interest was significantly higher, with 20 candidates for 14 seats in 2-1 and 2-2, with 15 candidates for 12 seats across 25-1, 25-2 and 25-3. However, with those races being divided by men and women and by precinct, there was still a shortage of committeewomen candidates in 2-2, 9-2 and 25-3.

Separately, commissioners also approved changing the poll location for Crandall voters from the Park County Courthouse to the Cody rec center, where other out-of-town Cody residents vote. While no one specifically objected to that change, multiple people didn’t like the elections office’s practice of sending registered voters in Crandall a polling location notice that includes an application for an absentee ballot.

(CJ Baker contributed reporting.)