Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Aug. 26

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on undervoting in Wyoming’s primary elections, a new tool that helps Wyomingites get criminal records expunged and the 25th anniversary of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation.
Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center
The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at Grand Teton National Park is one of the flagship projects of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this week. (Acroterion via Wikimedia Commons)

Wyoming voters turned out for primaries–but didn’t necessarily vote down ballot

Wyoming’s elections last week saw a record turnout for a midterm primary in the state, according to the nonprofit publication WyoFile. But while nearly 96% of people who cast a ballot voted in the high-profile congressional race, far fewer selected candidates in other contested elections down the ballot.

“If they leave that bubble unfilled on a paper ballot like we have in Wyoming, that would be considered an undervote,” said Mike Koshmrl, state politics and natural resources reporter for WyoFile. “So, it’s basically just a missed chance at a vote.”

Koshmrl added that undervoting is nothing new, and it’s hard to tell whether more completed ballots would have changed the outcome of any races. That’s more likely in some elections for the state legislature that were decided by only a couple hundred votes. He also said his reporting suggests that many Democratic crossover voters who switched to the Republican Party in order to support Rep. Liz Cheney in her unsuccessful reelection campaign may not have done their homework on what other Republicans they wanted to vote for.

“I would just say that if you don’t want to be beating yourself up at the polls next election, I just encourage your listeners and voters to just take 20 minutes and do your homework next time,” Koshmrl said. “If [more] people in Wyoming do that, it would certainly cut down on the number of undervotes.”

The general election for positions ranging from governor to the Jackson Town Council is Nov. 8. KHOL will also be participating in a number of candidate forums hosted by the Wyoming League of Women Voters and Teton County Library coming up in September.

Jackson history museum starts work on new campus

The Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum is one step closer to having a new home on the southwest corner of the Genevieve Block at Broadway and Willow. Last week, it began moving the historic red house that currently occupies the site to Star Valley. Construction of the new museum building will start in September.

Executive Director Morgan Jaouen said the new campus will give the museum a chance to establish a permanent home in downtown Jackson and expand its programming.

“It’s just this central hub where both locals and visitors can learn about our 11,000 years of human history here in the Tetons,” Jaouen said.

The museum is currently located on North Cache Street but doesn’t own the land. Moving to the new location means the museum will own its own land for the first time in 64 years. 

The new building is expected to open in 2024.

Grand Teton National Park Foundation marks 25th anniversary

Thursday marked the 25th anniversary of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation—the park’s private nonprofit fundraising partner. One of the foundation’s biggest projects was spearheading the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, which opened in 2007, but President Leslie Mattson said she’s most proud of the foundation’s education and youth conservation programs.

“It’s not about just building the building. It’s not about just fixing up Jenny Lake,” Mattson said. “It’s about inspiring people to care deeply about not just this park but all parks and all public lands.”

Mattson has led the foundation for 18 of its 25 years. In total, the foundation has raised more than $103 million for park projects—all of which are public-private partnerships.

“The park brings money to the table,” Mattson explained. “They either take it from appropriations, such is the case at the visitor center, or other pots of funding that they compete for. So, the park service has skin in the game in everything we do.”

In addition to building the visitor center and transforming the facilities at Jenny Lake, other notable foundation projects include helping to purchase 640 acres of state-owned land on Antelope Flats that could have otherwise been developed and improving several visitor access points to the Snake River.

Residents’ input sought again on future of tourism in the Tetons

Local residents have another chance to weigh in on the future of tourism in the Tetons now through Wednesday, Aug. 31. The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board is wrapping up the third phase of a sustainable destination management planning process—the goal of which is to make Jackson a more sustainable place to live, work and visit. 

Vice Chair of the board Crista Valentino said earlier community feedback has helped identify eight priority issues ranging from traffic congestion to the lack of affordable housing. Now, the planning team wants to hear the public’s ideas about how to solve them.

“Maybe ideas that you personally have that are unique and specific to our community,” Valentino said. “Maybe you’ve traveled or have been to other places where you’ve seen great solutions or innovative ideas that work in other communities—we want to hear about those.”

Public comments can be submitted at engagetetoncountywy.com by clicking on the “Share Your Voice” tab. A draft management plan is expected to be ready by the end of October and the final plan by the end of the year.

New tool from Jackson law firm helps Wyomingites get criminal records expunged

Wyomingites have a new tool to help them erase—or expunge—their criminal records. Jackson-based lawyer Alex Freeburg of Freeburg Law created the free tool, and he said it’s the first of its kind in the state.

“One of the things you see with criminal defense is the justice system can be really hard. People get a conviction, it’s on the[ir] record, it causes problems with employment, with housing, even though the conviction is [a] one time thing—it’s just a mistake,” Freeburg said. “So, what we want to do is make it easy for people to get their records expunged.”

The new tool helps people create documents to petition Wyoming courts to expunge misdemeanor convictions and arrests. After the request is submitted, Freeburg said there’s a 30-day deadline for the prosecutor to object to the expungement. Most records are expunged after that.

Unlike other states, Wyoming hasn’t moved to e-filing for expungement. Freeburg’s firm decided to automate part of the process in order to help remove financial barriers and make an opaque process more transparent.

“If you can fill out your own taxes onlines, if you can apply for a job online, if you can set up an online bank account, you ought to be able to use this tool for free and get it done,” Freeburg said.

The expungement tool is available online at tetonattorney.com.

Wyoming abortion ban hearing postponed; Idaho ban goes into effect

A procedural hearing about the lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s abortion ban has been rescheduled for October. Teton County Judge Melissa Owens ordered the delay to give both the plaintiffs and defendants time to respond to the latest developments in the case. 

The state attorney general’s office filed a motion last week asking the Wyoming Supreme Court to hear the case to speed up the process. Several new defendants, including anti-abortion activst groups and state legislators, also want to join the case. 

Meanwhile, in neighboring Idaho, a federal judge blocked part of the Gem State’s near-total ban on abortions Wednesday–the day before the ban was set to go into effect. The judge’s ruling means that Idaho doctors can’t be punished for acting to protect the health of mothers facing medical emergencies that put their lives at risk. However, the limited preliminary injunction allowed most other provisions of the ban to go into effect.

This story includes reporting from Will Walkey of Wyoming Public Radio

First case of monkeypox identified in Wyoming

The first case of monkeypox has been identified in Wyoming in Laramie County. State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said in a Monday press release that public health workers are doing contact tracing but do not believe the risk is any higher now for most Cowboy State residents. 

The monkeypox virus spreads through close, intimate contact, and thus spreads far less easily than COVID-19. Typical symptoms include a rash combined with fever, chills, headache, muscle aches or fatigue. Vaccines are available for some of the groups considered to be at highest risk of contracting monkeypox based on the current outbreak, including sex workers and some men who have sex with men. 

More information is available on the Teton County Health Department website.

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