As the elections of 2016 approach – the August 16 Wyoming primary and the November 8 general election – there is great interest in elections and politics this summer, Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray reported recently during a tour of Northwest Wyoming.
Murray stopped in Lovell June 10 for an interview following a tour of State Loan and Investment Board projects in Byron and Cowley.
“We’ve seen a record turnout for caucus events across the state,” Murray said. “This hasn’t translated as of yet into registration because in Wyoming we have same day voter registration.
“Based upon my survey of the county clerks and of the parties, the county chairs, there’s been a record turnout, and in some cases quadruple the turnout from previous cycles. It has to do with the incredible movement that’s occurring across the nation, I think, that’s reflective of an angst and a discontent and a passion that pits the mainstream versus the anti-establishment.
“It’s a very interesting phenomenon – and one, from which, the United States will emerge a stronger country.”
Wyoming has seen a record number of candidate filings for the Wyoming legislative races, Murray said, a total of 183 statewide.
“I’m pleased with competition, coming from the private sector, and by way of a business analogy, competition fosters and facilitates strength and success,” he said.
Murray said he had 28 stops or events on his tour of Northwest Wyoming and Western and Southwestern Wyoming, starting with the Wyoming Association of Municipalities summer meeting in Cody on Thursday. He noted that WAM president and Lovell councilman Brian Dickson presided over the president’s dinner and wife Linnea was named the support spouse of the year for WAM.
He said he spoke to WAM about supporting entrepreneurs in Wyoming communities and on Friday toured a future wastewater project in Byron and the planned addition to the Log Gym in Cowley, which he called a “fantastic project” intended to support job training and community development. Murray also checked out the Cowley splash park and senior baseball league field, in which the state invested funds.
“These are things that are taking a small community like Cowley and creating the catalyst by which it is being embraced by people from out of state coming, visiting and then relocating, especially once they taste the water,” Murray said with a chuckle, praising Sen. Ray Peterson and Mayor Joel Peterson for fostering the collaboration between state and local government to make projects happen with the assistance of countless community volunteers.
Murray said he has been working with county clerks on improving the election process and encouraging youth voting, noting that he was successful in encouraging legislation to enable vote centers – a central location for voting – and E-pollbooks.
“Vote centers allow for accessibility and convenience in a central location that alleviates the necessity of traveling to your precinct for voting purposes,” Murray said. “Here in Big Horn you can live in Basin but you may work in Lovell, so you could vote in Lovell without the necessity of returning home to Basin. You could vote anywhere convenient to you.
“That had not been supported previously, so we got that passed in 2015 and it’s been a smash success in its initial deployment in a couple of jurisdictions. That’s not to say it’s for everybody, because that’s the beauty of the legislation. It allows local governments (county commissioners and clerk) to decide for themselves whether they want that or not.”
Murray also said he discovered while traveling the state during the election of 2014 that there is a great disconnect between young people, especially the 18-24-year-old range, and their interest in the voting process in Wyoming.
“It was really heartbreaking for me, because I would encounter our youth and try and encourage them to get out and vote, and they were saying they were simply fed up with the process,” the Secretary said. “They had a real cynicism. And so I started to try and figure out why this was the case.”
Murray said he formed a roundtable group and has conducted scientific surveys and reached out to “try and understand why our youth vote participation rate is only 10 percent.”
Wyoming ranks in the bottom 10 states for youth voter turnout for the 18-24 age range, he said, and is “not much better” in the 25 to 29 age range, with a 13 percent voter turnout.
“When I took office the narrative was that we have a very good voter turnout rate, and I said, ‘well, I’ve been on the road and I know first hand that what I observed doesn’t correlate with what I’m being told,’ so I said ‘let’s look into the numbers, let’s look into the data,’” Murray said.
He said that Wyoming does have a high voter turnout among older citizens, but the turnout for young people is poor.
“When you start to break it down as to who’s turning out to vote it’s what I affectionately call the gray hairs – ages 49-50 and above, where there’s an exceptionally great voter turnout in the order of 78 to 79 percent,” the Secretary said. “It’s outstanding. But when averaged with the deplorable youth voter turnout it brings the average down to 34 percent for the last election cycle.”
He hopes to change the youth turnout.
“We’ve brought together leaders from education, military, business, families and obviously from youth to ask why is it important we care, why is the voter turnout so poor and what can we do to resolve the problem?” he said. “The feedback has been fascinating. We think that as to the underlying reasons for the poor turnout among our youth it’s a combination of a cynicism, with a lack of the rigorous civics education, together with lack of familial or adult mentorship, together with a failure on the part of the political candidates and/or parties to invigorate and excite the electorate.
“You cannot believe how the issue is of enormous interest throughout the state. We have a lot of good momentum building toward a statewide summit later this fall we are really looking forward to hosting down in Laramie when school has reconvened where there will be 10,000 of our Wyoming youth from all across the state. We’re going to the college students.”
As Wyoming’s chief business official, Murray said he is doing everything he can to help Wyoming businesses thrive, even during the current economic downturn.
“My entire makeup and being is wrapped up in entrepreneurship,” Murray said. “I’ve spent 35 years in the private sector owning and operating numerous businesses, so I firmly believe that an entrepreneurial ecosystem will be a solution in part to the serious economic challenges that Wyoming faces in the foreseeable future.”
He said the entrepreneurial ecosystem includes the state doing what it can do to assist business including “laws which are consistent and strong in protecting business, our favorable tax climate, as well as remaining a business friendly state in limiting and restricting these burdensome rules and regulations.”
Murray said he wants to encourage and promote new sources of capital for businessmen and women and mentorships and entrepreneurial education to teach and support businessmen and women who are just starting out.
“I have personally been a mentor to numerous new businessmen and women starting out,” he said, adding, “I have promoted and was able to obtain through legislation this last session crowd funding, which, when it becomes deployed in 2017, will allow for another source of capital for new entrepreneurs.”
Wyoming will be able to ride out the current economic storm, Murray predicted.
“Wyoming will survive and persevere,” he said. “I think we’re actually in a much better position now in this downturn than we have been in previous downturns. Wyoming is fortunate that we have $20 billion in the bank from which we are able to fund and continue to receive return on investment. However, I think we can do a much better job in investing more of Wyoming wealth into Wyoming rather than Wall Street.”
By David Peck