Editorial:

Lawmakers shouldn’t limit party switching

Posted

On the morning of Aug. 22, just hours after learning that he’d finished as runner-up to Mark Gordon in the Republican Party’s gubernatorial primary race, Foster Friess sent out an email to the other GOP candidates who came up short.

In the message, obtained by the publication WyoFile, Friess pitched two ideas for how the candidates could “increase our chances of getting a conservative elected as governor four years from now.”

One of the conservative financier’s ideas was for Wyoming to host a runoff election, where the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. We think that idea is worth considering, but it would represent a fairly dramatic shift in Wyoming’s politics and elections.

Friess’ other suggestion was much simpler: to restrict voters’ abilities to switch parties.

It’s something of an open secret that some Democrats become Republicans on primary election day — just long enough to vote in the Republican election. While motivations differ, that’s generally because they’re either dissatisfied with the slim pickings on the Dem ballot and/or they want to alter the slate of candidates, since the Republican contenders tend to go on to win in the general election.

Many conservatives are convinced that these crossover voters propelled Gordon (who received 38,951 votes) to victory over Friess (29,842 votes). Their case was certainly bolstered by a group that called itself “Switch for Wyoming,” which urged voters to cast votes for the more “moderate” Gordon.

“It seems like the Democrats have figured out this party switch deal to their advantage,” Friess wrote in the email to his fellow candidates, adding that, “the Democrats have been able to control our elections with putting on a Republican coat.”

Friess later threw his support behind Gordon, but when the Wyoming Legislature convenes early next year, you can count on a serious push by some Republican lawmakers and activists to try limiting the times that voters can switch parties.

There are certainly reasonable arguments to be made for prohibiting people from being a Republican for one day a year. While perfectly legal, the practice does seem a little disingenuous.

But in our minds, there’s one compelling reason to continue allowing people to switch parties up through election day: It makes it easy for Wyoming residents to cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice, regardless of that candidate’s party.

We firmly believe that strong voter participation is key to keeping our government vibrant; as a general rule, the more people who are engaged and voting, the better off we are.

In contrast, a crackdown on party-switching would restrict Wyoming citizens’ ability to register and vote — and undoubtedly drive down participation. In fact, that appears to be a primary goal behind the suggestion.

There’s little evidence to support the idea that Gordon won because of some “Blue wave” in his favor. But let’s pretend for a moment that a ban on last-minute party changes would have cost Gordon 9,100 votes and given Friess the win in the primary election. That would have made Friess the primary victor — and, in this heavily Republican state, likely the eventual governor — with less than 29,900 votes; that’s only about 6.7 percent of Wyoming’s adult population. To put that vote total in context, it means that, statistically, you would have to poll about 15 Wyomingites before finding someone who voted for Friess. Gordon’s numbers weren’t much better, as he received 8.8 percent of the voting age population, which is about one in 11.

The vote totals were low, in part, because there were six different candidates, but can anyone argue with a straight face that it would be a good idea to drive those numbers even lower?

It’s convenient for losing candidates to find someone or something to blame for their defeat: Russians, illegal aliens, a teacher’s union or Democrats in Republican clothing.

But inside the voting booth, people choose their candidates for many different reasons. While some Democrats undoubtedly switched over to vote for Gordon, we’re certain that some of the Wyomingites who became Republicans last month cast their ballots for Friess. It’s simply a bad idea to try limiting voters’ options.

If you really want to make a difference, you’re better off convincing like-minded friends and neighbors to get out and vote, rather than brainstorming ways to take ballots out of the hands of your political opponents. Driving participation up instead of down still helps your particular candidate, but it also helps our country, too.

We hope more candidates and voters take that approach to our coming elections.

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