CASPER, Wyo. — It’s hard to vote in Fremont County. Ballots are an enigma because of the sinuous lines splitting districts into incongruous precincts. The county sends out sample ballots with voting instructions to aid disillusioned voters. But problems still arise.
“It’s so confusing for voters,” said Margy Irvine, Fremont County deputy clerk and election supervisor.
A re-vote in Fremont County’s second county commissioner district had residents in other parts of the state scratching their heads. A ballot judge during the Aug. 21 primary election gave 30 ballots to voters who didn’t live within the boundaries of the second district in the 18-2 precinct. Due to the error, the county’s canvassing board called for a re-vote.
“Everyone in the state says, ‘How does this happen?” Irvine said. “They don’t understand Fremont County.”
Irvine said the districting lines are to blame. Voters' ballots depend on where their homes lie within the county’s fire, school, cemetery, conservation, municipal, irrigation and legislative districts. The lines can't be even when the districts don’t match, creating the splits. There’s one split with five voters in it, meaning that a special ballot needs to be crafted for five residents.
"What it means for most people is that the familiar is not the familiar," said Anna Moscicki, a Fremont County ballot judge. "Just because you live in the same house on the same street for 20 years doesn't mean you have the same representation you've had for the past 20 years."
To ease the burden on ballot judges, the county clerk's office highlights, color-coordinates and separates ballots in manila envelopes. But, as was the case in the primary, there is room for error.
A precinct map for Fremont County is a convoluted web of districts. One line, though, was drawn thanks to a district court. The court found the county’s at-large voting for county commissioner was in violation of the 15th Amendment right of the American Indian population. Multimember districts replaced the at-large system and guaranteed the residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation the representation the county had always denied them.
“We were looking for equity and balance,” said Gary Collins, Northern Arapaho tribal liaison and a plaintiff in the case that ensured equal representation for voters on the reservation.
He said many people in the county blame the redistricting for the errors that caused the re-vote.
Those in the county who opposed the switch from at-large to single-member districts drew the lines for fire, irrigation, cemetery and conservation districts that vex ballot judges, Collins said.
Collins has no sympathy for those who complain about the number of districts. "That's their job," he said.
Confused voters can now use the Fremont County Map Survey program. It’s an online service where registered voters can type in their address and it will show them which districts they are in.
Fremont County Commissioner Dennis Christensen won the initial primary election by 20 votes last month. But he lost the mail ballot re-vote to Larry Allen, who won by more than 300 votes. There have been meetings with ballot judges and additional measures set in place to prevent a general election recurrence of the confusion.