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District 4 seat to appear as two-year term on fall ballot

District 4 seat to appear as two-year term on fall ballot

Apr 13, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission district represented by Pat Hickerson will appear on the November general election ballot as a two-year unexpired term.

During their meeting April 10, commissioners decided to pursue the two-year term rather than a typical four-year length to maintain the rotation of board seats during the election cycle.

Hickerson, who represents a district that covers much of Lander, won a four-year term during the special general election in January 2011. The commission was concerned people would again not be able to vote because of changes to the five districts' boundaries.

Earlier this month, Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese provided figures that showed 2,405 voters moving from a district that did not vote last time into a new area that again would not be on their ballot.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said the reasoning behind making the two-year term for the District 4 seat held by a Hickerson in this election is "to address disenfranchisement and to keep the traditional rotation" of board seats.

The seat will return to a four-year term in subsequent elections.

The decision on the term length was the last action needed in the process to adjust Fremont County's five single-member commissioner districts.

The adjustments account for population changes in the 2010 Census and are intended to improve the election process for voters. They are the first revisions since a 2010 federal court ruling created the five districts to allow American Indians to elect their candidate of choice.

Hickerson's seat for District 4 will join other seats held by Thompson in District 5 and commissioner Dennis Christensen in District 2 appearing on this year's ballot.

The term lengths for Districts 2 and 5 will each be four years.

Hickerson was absent from the commission meeting April 10 for the decision on the district's term length, but other board members discussed the issue.

During the meeting April 3, commissioners approved the proposed changes to the district boundaries but reserved a decision on the term length in order to get legal advice from their attorney.

Deputy county attorney Jodi Darrough told commissioners that Wyoming statutes require the board to make a statement on record concerning whether it is practical for certain districts to be up for election.

"The law doesn't prescribe any other action you need to take," Darrough said.

Commissioner Keja Whiteman was the sole vote against the two-year term, saying that candidates seeking a four-year office should earn that term of service.

"It seems like it gives that seat a disadvantage," Whiteman said.

Additionally, she said it makes more sense to have three commission seats on the ballot in a presidential election year because of "greater voter turnout."

Commission Travis Becker made the motion for a two-year term, comparing the situation to when former county attorney Ed Newell left office to be replaced by Brian Varn who served the term's remainder.

"It's no different than our county attorney," Becker said, supporting the two-year unexpired term.

Thompson also supported the two-year term, noting he would want to maintain the rotation of commission seats at election.

"I think to keep that sequence I will probably support (the two-year term)," he said.

In response to Whiteman's concerns, he said the two-year seat involves "campaigning one-fifth of the county, so maybe that helps a little bit."

Freese plans to finalize commission district maps before May 1 and send notices to all registered voters in the county concerning their districts for commissioners, schools, state Senate and House seats and, where applicable, municipal council wards.

The primary election filing period opens May 17.

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