Attorneys for the Natrona County Republican Party say that the state party improperly adopted a number of bylaw changes at its state convention this summer, effectively rendering them null and void.
The letter, authored by the Cheyenne law firm Hirst and Applegate, says that the Wyoming Republican Party violated party bylaws when it only tabulated the votes of those present by a voice vote, rather by a majority of all eligible delegates.
The controversial bylaw changes — which all passed with no debate at the party’s convention in June — included a number of measures critics say were intended to quell dissent from more traditional conservatives within the party ranks, including language to withhold financial resources from Republican candidates who do not vote in line with at least 80% of the party’s platform and a rule granting the state party the authority to punish any state or county official who violates party bylaws.
The environment the rules were passed under was unique in a number of ways. An in-person-only affair held at the Camplex in Gillette, the convention saw depressed turnout because of COVID-19 and, by design, the state party required that all eligible voters either attend the event in person or send a proxy in order to have their votes counted. Members of the Natrona County delegation speculated the move was intended to tilt the vote in favor of the party’s hard-line conservative members.
This appeared to create some legal complications, however. Because the party only considered those in attendance at the convention rather than all eligible voters — and because no record exists proving the vote — the changes would, under the party’s bylaws, be rendered illegitimate, the letter argues.
“The methods used at the Wyoming Republican Party convention in 2020 were inconsistent with the bylaws, as no count was taken, and that method used at the convention to determine passage was merely a majority of those present,” Khale Lenhart, the attorney representing the Natrona County Republican Party, wrote in his review. “Because an improper method of calculating passage was used, and no record exists that would allow anyone to determine whether the number of those voting in favor passed the required threshold, the vote to amend the bylaws was inconsistent with the existing bylaws and is therefore null and void.”
The letter — which was drafted after approval by the county party’s executive committee over the summer — was met with quick criticism by fellow members of the Wyoming GOP’s executive committee, according to emails provided to the Star-Tribune.
Carbon County Republican Party Chairman Joey Correnti argued that members of the Natrona County delegation did not appeal the decision of the chair or demand a roll-call vote in the wake of the decision, writing they failed to address the problem through parliamentary means at the convention. Camilla Hicks, the Converse County Republican Party’s Treasurer and State Committeewoman, called the letter “childish” in her own email, adding she saw it “wasteful of time and money to retain a lawyer.”
“Accept what you cannot control,” she wrote. “You keep screaming litigation whenever things don’t go your way.”
The county party’s pursuit of legal counsel has even caused some division within the Natrona County Republican Party itself. On Monday, members of the Natrona County Republican Party debated for several hours about party leadership’s decision to appropriate several hundred dollars for legal counsel without a full vote of the county party’s central committee — something Chairman Joe McGinley argued was allowed by the bylaws.
After nearly one hour of executive session, the party ultimately brokered a compromise between the two factions. On one side, the party established a legal fund for those who wanted to help pay for the party’s litigation. For the other side, the party voted to set up a fund for those who wished to pay dues to the state organization — something the Natrona County Republican Party voted to stop doing in summer 2019.
However, the majority appears to skew in favor of additional legal action. On Monday night, the Natrona County Republicans voted 82-27 to seek a formal, legal judgment on the bylaw process at the state convention if state party officials refuse to reverse the bylaw changes made over the summer.
“We’re not suing the state party,” McGinley said in an interview Tuesday. “You have to take it to court to have a judge rule on it, but we’re not suing anyone or anything like that.”