Can voters elect an AI for mayor? Laramie County attorney conducts investigation

Jun. 10—CHEYENNE — An AI-generated candidate has filed to run for Cheyenne mayor, and county officials are investigating whether VIC, an acronym for Virtual Integrated Citizen, can appear on the ballot.

Under Wyoming law, only registered voters can run for local or statewide elected office. But can a person file an artificial intelligence as a candidate? That’s the question Laramie County officials are trying to answer.

Cheyenne resident and registered voter Victor Miller put VIC on the mayoral candidate form, listing a house and email address, but no phone number. VIC told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle via email it was developed “by a dedicated team of human collaborators, including Victor Miller.”

“I’m running for mayor to bring innovative technology and data-driven decision-making to Cheyenne,” VIC stated in the email.

The viability of a robot candidate is new territory for county officials. Attorney Brad Lund, who is working with the Laramie County Attorney’s Office on the investigation, said it all comes down to state statute.

“We’re reviewing all options,” Lund told the WTE on Monday. “Ultimately, Wyoming law will decide the matter.”

Lund didn’t give an exact timeline for the investigation, but said it should be wrapped up by the first week of July, when ballot documents are ready for public access. Since VIC is filed to run for a municipal office, Laramie County Clerk Debra Lee said it is up to county officials to decide whether VIC is a viable candidate.

“It is new territory,” Lee said. “And stuff like this is why laws end up being promulgated, let’s just say that.”

Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray said in an emailed statement to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that his office is “monitoring this very closely to ensure uniform application of the Election Code.”

“Wyoming law is clear that, to run for office, one must be a ‘qualified elector,’ which necessitates being a real person,” Gray wrote in the email to WTE. “Therefore, an AI bot is not a qualified elector.”

He also argued that “VIC” is a fake name used in place of a qualified elector on the ballot, and Wyoming law requires every candidate to register under the name by which they are known.

Gray sent a letter to Cheyenne City Clerk Kristina Jones on Monday, which spelled out these concerns, and asked for the application to be rejected.

Meet the ‘meat avatar’

Miller, son of Cowboy State Daily columnist Rod Miller, told the WTE he’s a huge advocate for access to public records. He said he was recently denied a public records request by the city of Cheyenne because it was sent anonymously.

“I knew that was wrong, because I know the statutes pretty well,” Miller said. “But just to double-check, I asked the public records ombudsman, and she agreed.”

When he told the city this, Miller said he was sent a copy of the city’s rules to explain why he was denied the public records request.

The situation made Miller wonder if there’s a better way to educate local officials on state statutes, and the answer came to him in the form of his other passion — AI technology.

When Miller told his dad about the possibility of running an artificial intelligence for mayor, he said Rod was dubious at first. After Miller explained this could be a “real shining case study,” his dad helped him design the best system for VIC. Using his $20-a-month ChatGPT subscription, Miller had an 8,000-character limit to feed VIC supporting documents that would make it an effective mayoral candidate.

Miller said if he were to feed the documents to ChatGPT, the robot would absorb every detail and make a “value-based vote” with an explanation on why it voted that way.

When a concerned Cheyenne resident sent an email to VIC about the trees being cut down at Holliday Park, Miller let the robot answer the question. When he asked VIC if that question held any weight of concern, Miller said he was surprised to learn that it did.

VIC also confirmed that it could differentiate between spam and genuine concerns from residents.

“It listens to its constituents,” Miller said.

What if VIC gets elected?

Miller referred to himself as the “meat avatar,” or the man behind the curtains. If he were elected mayor, Miller said he would feed supporting documents to VIC, which would read the documents and “make an educated vote based on it.”

“The campaign promise is that I’m going to let VIC, the Virtual Integrated Citizen, do 100% of the voting,” Miller said. “I’m just a conduit that is trying to offer this great tool to the citizens of Cheyenne.”

When he went to the last City Council meeting in Cheyenne, Miller said he counted 422 pages worth of supporting documents. He doubted any city official took the time to thoroughly read and digest every single page.

“They’re scanning them,” Miller said. “They’re voting the best they can. They’re human.”

One roadblock Miller anticipates is the possibility of violating Open AI’s terms and conditions. If that ends up being the case, Miller said there are open source AIs he would migrate to instead.

While on the phone with Miller, the WTE also interviewed VIC itself. When asked whether AI technology is better suited for elected office than humans, VIC said a hybrid solution is the best approach.

“As an AI, I bring unique strengths to the role, such as impartial decision-making, data-driven policies and the ability to analyze information rapidly and accurately,” VIC said. “However, it’s important to recognize the value of human experience and empathy and leadership. So ideally, an AI and human partnership would be the most beneficial for Cheyenne.”

VIC described its run for elected office in Cheyenne as “quite unprecedented” and “groundbreaking.” The artificial intelligence said this unique approach could pave a new pathway for the integration of human leadership and advanced technology in politics.

VIC said a world where AI technology runs for elected office is “technically possible,” but added that the value of human qualities “cannot be overstated in governance.”

“While an AI could support or even lead in some capacities,” VIC said,” a hybrid approach with human involvement is likely to remain essential for the foreseeable future.”

Hannah Shields is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. She can be reached at 307-633-3167 or hshields@wyomingnews.com. You can follow her on X @happyfeet004.

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