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People across the state will remain unable to conduct voter registration drives if county clerks follow a directive from Secretary of State Joe Meyer, thanks to a federal judge's decision Monday.

But two county clerks nevertheless recently accepted multiple voter registrations from people conducting such drives in Converse and Sheridan counties, according to an attorney in a lawsuit against Meyer and three county clerks.

U.S. District Judge William Downes refused to grant an injunction sought by plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Meyer and the clerks. The injunction would have forced clerks to give people handfuls of blank voter registration documents upon request and to later register voters who complete the forms.

But Downes' decision not to issue the injunction means Meyer's Feb. 26 directive to county clerks, in which he interpreted state election law to preclude people from conducting voter registration drives, remains in effect.

Any person eligible to vote in Wyoming can still register at a county clerk's office, and many clerks will make arrangements for people who contact the office wanting to register but can't physically travel to the office.

People can also register at the polls on election day, but voter registration is closed in the 30 days prior to the election, in part to give the clerks time to finalize the voter rolls and prepare them for election day.

Three citizens - Vickie Goodwin of Douglas, Cornelius Kelly of Pinedale and Kathy Vasey of Kemmerer - filed the lawsuit after they were turned down when they asked their respective county clerks for multiple registration forms so they could register people to vote.

Other plaintiffs include 20 unnamed men and 20 unnamed women of Converse, Lincoln and Sublette counties "who due to age, physical disability, personal economic circumstances and other reasons, wish to register as absentee voters in their respective home counties," the lawsuit states.

But Downes was not persuaded that current voter registration practices have caused or will cause anyone to suffer irreparable harm, one of the requirements for issuing an injunction.

"There's been no citizen that's been demonstrated to me that's been denied their right to register to vote," he said during a short lunch-hour hearing in which he issued his oral ruling.

He said he reviewed the case, which was filed Sept. 23, over the weekend. Attorneys argued the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction Friday.

Casper attorney John Robinson, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said Downes' ruling was appropriate under the circumstances.

He explained that the Converse and Sheridan county clerks recently decided to accept registrations from people who participated in drives.

"We expected them to follow Meyer's directive and not accept them," Robinson said. "Thankfully, the clerks in those two counties were brave and courageous enough to accept them and say these people are registered voters."

Thus, he said, it appears the lawsuit got the right result, even though Downes refused to issue the injunction.

If any county clerk now refuses to accept registrations from people who participate in drives, that clerk will be treating people in that county differently than people in Converse or Sheridan counties are treated, and that could be a violation of the U.S. Constitution, Robinson said.

Meyer expressed no interest in Downes' decision one way or the other except to say he appreciated that the judge issued a ruling so quickly.

"I don't have any reaction to it either way," Meyer said. "The only thing I worry about is any type of confusion in this general election presidential year."

He said Downes' quick decision on the injunction request cleared up procedures for how clerks should handle registration this year.

Defendants in the lawsuit, along with Meyer, are Converse County Clerk Lucille Taylor, Sublette County Clerk Mary Lankford, Lincoln County Clerk Jeanne Wagner, and 20 unknown public employees.

Capital bureau reporter Bill Luckett can be reached at (307) 632-1244 or at bill.luckett@casperstartribune.net

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