No Ballot is too Rural for Natrona County to Count, Even From the Willow Creek Precinct
Just because a handful of Natrona County residents live on or near Willow Creek Road two hours northwest of Casper and one-and-a-half hours southwest of Kaycee doesn't give them any reason to not vote.
"I don't want any excuses, 'I'm too far out,'" Natrona County Clerk Tracy Good said.
Willow Creek Road is Precinct 14.1 in the southern Bighorn Mountains, just south of the Johnson County line.
About 20 people cast ballots there, and those ballots are counted with the other ballots, Good said.
Just not quite the same way.
The polling place is the Bennett Ranch, according to the Natrona County Clerk's elections website. It is represented by Republican Sen. Charles Scott in Senate District 30, and Republican Rep. Tom Walters in House District 38.
During the general election on Tuesday, at every polling place for the 46 precincts in the county, voters checked in, received their paper ballots and pens, walked to the portable voting booths, and filled in the ovals of their preferred candidates and issues.
But the similarity stopped there for Precinct 14.1.
At 45 precincts, people slid their ballots into a machine that electronically recorded their votes. Those votes eventually were transferred to a USB card.
After the polls closed, the USB cards were placed in pink plastic bags.
Volunteers in the Casper area took the bags with the USB cards to the old courthouse, 200 N. Center St., for processing. Current or former sheriff's deputies drove to outlying polling places such as Powder River to retrieve them.
Not so with Willow Creek.
There, voters dropped their ballots into a sealed metal box, not a machine.
After Precinct 14.1 closed at 7 p.m., the election judge opened the box, took out the ballots and called the county's elections supervisor Leticia Drake.
The election judge read the votes on each ballot to Drake who filled in the appropriate ovals on paper ballots at her desk, and slid the ballots into the machine at the clerk's office.
The election judge for Willow Creek did not return a request for comment.
So why no machine with a USB card at Precinct 14.1?
That's where distance makes Willow Creek unique.
From Casper, the drive to Willow Creek is about two hours with three main ways to get there:
- The 95-mile route -- Drive 61 miles north on I-25 to the Ttt Road exit and then head southeast on Willow Creek Road.
- The 86-mile route -- Drive about 50 miles west on U.S. Highway 20/26, hang a right on County Road 104 for through Arminto where it becomes Buffalo Creek Road, and hang a right on Willow Creek Road.
- The 63-mile route -- Drive 16 miles west on U.S. Highway 20/26, hang a right on Bucknam Road, drive north, take a slight left turn on Thirty-Three Mile Road for 21 miles then take a slight right turn for 15 miles until you come to Willow Creek
Even if a deputy were at Willow Creek to pick up a USB card immediately after the polls closed, they would still have a two-hour drive back to Casper, and that's if the weather is good and if the unpaved roads are in good condition as well.
That's the distance problem, but not the most serious one.
Wyoming's election policy forbids using the internet for elections. No internet means no hacking.
Even briefly plugging a USB card into a computer to send the ballot data to the clerk's office runs the risk of election tampering.
Good won't let that happen.
So residents in the most isolated of Natrona County precincts receive thee same election protections afforded everywhere else here.
"Rural, rural, rural," Good said. "It is what it is."
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