We’ve written in this space before that Wyoming should continue allowing voters to change their party affiliation whenever they wish. It just makes sense to allow people to vote for whichever …
We’ve written in this space before that Wyoming should continue allowing voters to change their party affiliation whenever they wish. It just makes sense to allow people to vote for whichever candidate they want — even if that means allowing a Democrat to temporarily become a Republican.
However, some Republican lawmakers are committed to stopping so-called crossover voting. Last week, the Wyoming Senate voted 20-10 to introduce a measure from Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, that would reduce voters’ ability to participate in the state’s primary elections.
Senate File 97 — which is co-sponsored by local Sen. Tim French, R-Powell, and Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, among others — would require voters to pick a party before the candidate filing period opens in May.
In introducing the measure, Sen. Biteman said crossover voting “is not fair, it is not right, and it is harming the integrity of our party nomination process.”
“This bill will go a long way toward ending this up to now legal, but unethical behavior, and restore confidence in our party nominating process,” Biteman said. “Party switching cancels out the vote of actual party members by those who wish to game the system and influence the outcome of their competing party’s nominating election.”
Certainly, the senator makes a fair point about the dubious nature of joining a party for a day or two and then potentially switching back. There’s also an argument to be made that, rightly or wrongly, the practice has undercut confidence in Wyoming’s elections. For example, even though voter registration figures showed that it wasn’t crossover voters who gave Gov. Mark Gordon his victory in the 2018 Republican primary, that hasn’t stopped some conservative Republicans from continuing to believe that’s what happened. (You can expect plenty more angst about crossover voting in the pending U.S. House race between Rep. Liz Cheney, Harriett Hageman and other challengers.)
While we’d prefer lawmakers leave the current statutes alone, if they’re dead set on making a change, they should amend SF 97 to give voters more time to change their affiliation.
At the very least, voters should have until a couple weeks after the close of the candidate filing period to change or declare their party affiliation, so they can see who’s running and decide who they want to vote for. It’s pretty pointless being an unaffiliated voter if, say, all of the candidates for Park County offices are Republicans.
A 2020 bill that would have only barred switches in the final 14 days before the primary was a much better approach; it would give voters more time to consider their options while thwarting efforts like the last-minute “Switch for Wyoming” ad campaign that urged independents and Democrats to become Republicans and vote for Gordon in 2018.
As drafted, SF 97 runs the real risk of driving down voter turnout. While some people think about politics on a regular basis, most do not — and very few people are thinking about their voter registration status three months before an election.
Keep in mind that, in the highly contested 2018 primary, only 31.6% of Wyoming’s voting age population (fewer than one in three adults) showed up at the polls. That’s a dismal figure, particularly given the importance of primaries in our Republican-dominated state; in Park County, for instance, nearly all of our partisan races are settled in the Republican primary. We don’t want that turnout figure to go lower.
As Biteman noted in a recent release, “In Wyoming, we pride ourselves on making it easy to vote …” — and it’s critical we keep it that way.