Uinta County Judge Rules Political Party Bylaws Take Precedence Over Wyo State Laws
By Leo Wolfson, political journalist
Judge Joseph Bluemel dismissed a lawsuit against the Uinta County Republican Party and its leaders last Thursday, ruling that the county’s party rules allow its leaders to decide who can vote for the county’s future party leaders.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jon Conrad, a committee member who ran for county chairman.
“The recent court ruling has fully vindicated the Party and proven the allegations by Conrad and his co-plaintiffs to be without merit,” Uinta County GOP Chairwoman Elisabeth “Biffy” Jackson said in a statement. a post on the party’s Facebook page Monday night.
In March 2021, previously elected officers Jackson, Karl Allred, Lyle and Jana Lee Williams were allowed to vote in the county party leadership election, although each lost their respective precinct committee elections in August. 2020.
The 2021 leadership election resulted in Jackson, the Williams’ daughter, becoming county chairperson, Allred state committee member, and Jana Williams elected state committee member.
The lawsuit asked the court to declare the 2021 election null and void, order new elections to select officers, and rule that Jana Williams, Jackson and Allred take no action in the positions “which they now claim.” occupy wrongly”.
The plaintiffs argued unsuccessfully that the Uinta County Republican Party is governed exclusively by the state election code.
“Allowing the Uinta County Republican Party to disregard state law by granting voting privileges to whomever they want, need, or wish to vote, in an obvious, blatant, and brazen effort to maintain power among a dynastic group of exclusive individuals is a violation. of the (state) election code, which excludes those who are not qualified to vote in order to properly preserve the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud and corruption,” said the initial filing filed by the plaintiffs.
State Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, Rep. Danny Eyre, R-Lyman, former Rep. Ron Micheli and County Central Committee members Clarence Vranish, Clara Jean Vranish and Troy Nolan joined Conrad in the lawsuit .
Under state law, constituency committee members and women are elected in public primaries, but the party leadership is elected in internal party elections. The constituency committee member and committee wife, along with the county party chairman, represent the county at state party central committee meetings and committee meetings during the state convention.
Although state and county Republican Party bylaws specify that elected county party officials may vote in elections with the men and women of the precinct committee, state law stipulates that voting may not be carried out only by the county central committee, which consists of, but the defendants argued that it is not limited to, the elected members of the constituency committee.
Uinta County’s party bylaws specifically allow elected officials who are not county committee members to vote statehood. Central Committee meetings. The State Party also allows it.
In her ruling, Bluemel said the state law was purposely written in an unambiguous way to avoid overregulating political associations.
“The Uinta County Republican Party and its members decide ‘the stringency and wisdom of the terms of membership…so long as those terms are otherwise constitutionally permitted,'” Bluemel said, citing a case decision of the 1998 DC call circuit.
The defendants said the court could not interfere with the party’s and its members’ First Amendment rights to free speech.
State law states that in county party elections for officers, the “county central committee elects the chairman of the county central committee, a member of the state committee, and a wife of the state committee and other posts, as provided for in the party statutes”.
The defendants argued that in this law, the phrase “as provided by the party statutes” indicates that the elections must be conducted in accordance with the statutes which allow elected officials to vote, whether they are members of the constituency committee or nope. They further argued that since state law identifies the county central committee of each political party as composed of constituency committee members and women elected in the county in the regular biennial primary election without mentioning the word “only” was not intended for a central committee. committee composed solely of elected members of the constituency committee.
Plaintiffs disagreed and said “as provided by party bylaws” refers only to “other offices” aside from county officers.
“When the taxpayers of the State of Wyoming finance an election and the members of the Republican Party of Wyoming vote in that election for offices that represent them at the county and state level, the state must have an interest legitimate to the regulation thereof,” pleaded the plaintiffs.
Bluemel said the court could not add words to laws to create meaning and said the matter was limited to the decision of the county party.
“Had the Legislature intended the phrase ‘as provided by the Party Constitution’ to act as an instruction as to how the county central committee should proceed with the election, the Syntax would have directed the Legislature to position the expression in the sentence to construct that meaning,” Bluemel wrote. “The court must assume that the arrangement of words in the statute is an ‘intentional act of the legislature,’ and the court will not read into the statute words that the legislature chose not to include.”
Bluemel denied the defendant’s request that the plaintiffs disclose their sources of funding for the litigation.
“While the Court has now resolved the case in favor of the Party, the case revealed a disturbing pattern of certain individuals seeking to divide the Republican Party,” Jackson said in his post.
A state-level political action committee known as Wyoming Hope was used to pay plaintiff Micheli’s $5,000 legal fees. This Teton County-based organization, called Wyoming Hope, was started by Jackson resident Wayne Hughes.
“For all perspectives involved, this was an important legal question that needed to be answered: Should political parties abide by Wyoming laws and statutes or just internal regulations?” Hughes told the Cowboy State Daily. “The question had to be answered so that Wyoming could answer it according to law.”
Hughes said Bluemel’s decision to find party bylaws more important than state law was “a bit crazy.”
Hughes bought Cowboy State Daily in early 2022.
Conrad also filed a complaint with the Wyoming Secretary of State and sought a criminal investigation against Uinta County GOP officers. The Secretary of State determined he lacked jurisdiction and no criminal charges were ever filed.