[Image via kgwn]

Almost four months after the departure of longtime state election election director Peggy Nighswonger, Wyoming’s Secretary of State Ed Murray has named a replacement: state HAVA Coordinator Kai Schon. The Casper Star-Tribune has more:

Kai Schon, an eight-year veteran of the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office, is the new chief election director of Wyoming, according to a statement from the secretary’s office.

Schon replaces Peggy Nighswonger, longtime state election director who retired after philosophical disagreements with Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray.

Schon will be in charge of working with county clerks on voter registration and the 2016 election. The office is where candidates, political parties and political action committees report campaign contributions. Schon will oversee the election and ensure it complies with state and federal law.

In addition to electing a U.S. president this year, Wyomingites will vote for all 60 state House seats and 15 Senate seats and a handful of other state and federal offices.

Murray said Schon’s experience has proven he is prepared for the position.

“Kai will be integral to the division’s goals and objectives, the most important of which is the formation of a new partnership with Wyoming’s county clerks to support them through the 2016 election,” Murray said in a prepared statement. “This will be followed by my initiative to increase voter turnout among our youth. Only 10 percent of Wyoming’s youth, aged 18-24, voted in the last election, so we are finally going to tackle this issue.”

Nighswonger, the former elections director, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle in October that Murray’s initiative was one of the philosophical disagreements. While she thought increasing voter registration was a worthy goal, she felt the Secretary of State’s office should have been doing more to help county election officials prepare for the 2016 election and ensure it will run smoothly.

Schon has worked with Wyoming’s county clerks to ensure they were in compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and its sweeping election reforms.

“After working closely with Wyoming’s county clerks in all 23 counties on election technologies as Wyoming’s HAVA coordinator, I am excited to build upon these relationships and my past experiences in Wyoming by tackling new challenges as this division looks to prepare for 2016 and beyond,” he said in the statement. “Secretary Murray’s goals and objectives for my division are taking our entire Office in a new and innovative direction, and I could not be more thrilled by this opportunity.”

This is a very timely appointment and it’s likely a good thing that Schon is so familiar with the office – and the state – given the need to hit the ground running in a busty election year. Schon will be joining Murray at the annual meeting of secretaries of state and election directors in Washington, DC where his colleagues will undoubtedly let him know about the depth and breadth of the challenges involved in managing a state election system during an open-seat presidential year.

Best of luck to him and everyone in Wyoming – and stay tuned …