[Image courtesy of sheridanmedia]

The Equality State is going to enter the 2016 election cycle without its longtime election director as Peggy Nighswonger announced this week that she will be stepping down from the Wyoming job she held for nearly twenty years. The Wyoming Tribune has more:

Wyoming’s top elections official has stepped down due to “philosophical differences” with Secretary of State Ed Murray.

Peggy Nighswonger, who has been the state’s elections director since 1996 and worked in the Wyoming Department of Education before that, retired last month.

In an interview Monday, she said her working relationship with Murray was one of the reasons she decided to end her career with the state.

“I have worked for nine elected officials, and sometimes you just don’t have the same philosophy as they have,” she said. “I’m old enough to retire, and as much as I hate to leave, I just felt it was time.”

The disagreement, it appears, involves how much time and effort to invest in registering new voters as opposed to preparing for the 2016 elections:

As the elections director in the Secretary of State’s Office, Nighswonger oversaw local, state and national elections as well as the state’s campaign finance system, ethics rules and lobbyist practices.

She declined to get into the specifics about her disagreements with Murray. But she said the office should be doing more to prepare for the 2016 elections instead of pursuing other initiatives, such as trying to improve the voter registration numbers.

“There is nothing wrong with that, and getting the vote out is really good,” she said. “But at this point, with just a few months and a year from the next election, county election officials and people in my office are really swamped just trying to make sure the conduct of the election is done correctly.”

For his part, SoS Murray took the news in stride and vowed to run a national search for a new director:

Murray was traveling Monday and was unable to elaborate on the circumstances behind Nighswonger’s departure.

But he said in an emailed statement that “the Secretary of State’s Office is grateful for the many years of service that Peggy Nighswonger gave to our office, and we wish Peggy well in retirement.”

He went on to say that his office is evaluating the position to determine what needs to be done for the 2016 election and “the next decade of elections in the state.”

Once that is completed, Murray said, his office will begin a national search for the next election director.

“I’m looking for a new elections director who will improve upon Wyoming’s already impressive relationship with the county clerks in facilitating the elections process throughout Wyoming,” he said.

“The new elections director should bring to the table new ideas and a fresh perspective that will address the changing nature of elections in Wyoming and this country.”

As she leaves her state post – maybe to retire, maybe not – Nighswonger is proud of what her office did to assist all voters, as well as the ability to stay out of the news:

Nighswonger said she is contemplating whether to formally retire or pursue a couple of “job opportunities” that might be available.

She added that she is proud of the number of reforms that she oversaw as elections chief. These included mandates from the federal government for states to change how voting machines are used and how the votes are tallied.

“Another thing we did that was really good was increasing accessibility for individuals with disabilities,” she said. “That has really improved and made it so individuals can cast their ballots with confidentiality.”

Nighswonger said she is also glad that Wyoming has not run into any major Election Day mishaps like those that have hit other states.

“We were fortunate that everything has gone pretty smoothly,” she said. “It has been a wonderful career.”

It has, indeed – I have had the pleasure to meet and work with Peggy throughout my career and it’ll be hard to imagine Wyoming elections without her. [I imagine Wyoming will feel the same.] Best of luck to her in the next steps in her career … and here’s hoping that the next state director can bring the same level of excellence to Wyoming’s election process.

Stay tuned …