As Election Nears, Wyoming Leaders Eye Voting Rights Restrictions

Federal and state proposals have drawn concern from nonpartisan voting rights groups

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jan 06, 2024

A proposal from Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray to impose stricter residency requirements on would-be voters has drawn rebuke from nonpartisan voting rights groups. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

With the 2024 presidential primaries set to begin this month, a slew of state and federal election measures recently proposed by Wyoming leaders have drawn the ire of nonpartisan voting rights groups, who worry such policies could limit political participation in the upcoming election contests.

Stricter policies are needed to prevent voter fraud and ward against political influence in voter registration campaigns, according to the measures’ supporters. The proposed changes, they argue, would safeguard Wyoming elections and ensure states retain control over election procedures as per the U.S. Constitution.

Yet voter fraud is exceedingly rare, especially in Wyoming; a running tracker from the conservative Heritage Foundation reported only three documented instances of election fraud in the state since 2000, amounting to a rate of about one millionth of a percent.

A more pressing concern, voting rights advocates argue, is ensuring voters have access to the polls. In the 2022 midterms, for example, just 44% of eligible Wyomingites voted in the general election, per data from the Secretary of State, and even fewer cast ballots in the primaries.

“We want our elections to be filled with integrity. We want them to be safe and secure. And they are right now,” Marissa Carpio, policy director for the nonpartisan watchdog Equality State Policy Center (ESPC), told the Wyoming Truth. “What we’re worried about right now is Wyoming citizens’ access to the ballot box.”

Gray proposes tightening residency requirements

At the state level, concerns have centered on Secretary of State Chuck Gray’s proposed rule imposing stricter residency documentation requirements for Wyoming voters.

Currently, any Wyomingite with a valid driver’s license (or collection of similar documents) is eligible to register. Gray and state legislators also want to require voters to swear that they’re “bona fide” residents having lived in Wyoming for at least 30 days. Lawmakers are drafting legislation to add a line to that effect to the oath that voters swear when registering.

But in December, Gray unilaterally took matters further, proposing new documentation requirements for Wyomingites to prove their residency.

Under Gray’s proposal, voters with accurate addresses on their drivers licenses can register normally. But if the IDs used to register lack an address, or if their address is out of date, voters would need to provide further proof of residency, such as a utility bill or bank statement.

In a statement announcing the proposal, Gray argued it is “pivotal to election integrity and security for our great state.”

Yet some nonpartisan voting rights groups take issue both with the policy itself and the process by which Gray is pursuing it.

As the chief state official overseeing elections, Gray has the authority to determine certain rules and procedures pertaining to voting. But the ESPC, as well as the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Wyoming, argue Gray overstepped his bounds by imposing the residency requirements and suggest the matter be left to the legislature.

“This is not the correct avenue in terms of rulemaking for this type of change to the voter registration laws,” Carpio told the Wyoming Truth.

Moreover, Carpio said the added requirements could make it harder for legitimate residents to register, highlighting her own situation as exemplary. Though Carpio has lived in Wyoming for six years, her driver’s license until recently featured an old rental address, and her utility bills were in her husband’s the name. If she had tried to register given these new requirements, she might have been turned away.

“This is a very real situation that could happen if these rules went into effect,” Carpio said.

In response to criticism, Gray scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for Jan. 26. Public comments can also be shared online until the hearing takes place.

Hageman, Lummis bash Biden’s voting access executive order

Wyoming officials have similarly targeted policies promoting voter access at the federal level.

President Joe Biden’s March 2021 executive order on “Promoting Access to Voting” in particular has drawn rebukes from Republicans in Congress, including Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who argue the action oversteps the president’s constitutional authority.

The order directs hundreds of federal agencies to explore how they might promote voter registration and mobilization, suggesting they distribute voter registration forms, expand voter education initiatives and collaborate with nonpartisan groups to provide registration services on agency premises, among other actions.

Yet the Republican officials claim such efforts overstep federal authority and contend it requires agencies to spend money counter to how it was appropriated by Congress.

Late last year, Hageman introduced a bill, since passed through committee, to prohibit partnerships with outside organizations and strengthen documentation requirements. In a statement announcing the measure, she decried Biden’s action as “yet another example of many where the Biden administration believes that bureaucrats in Washington know better than everyone else how to do everything.”

Lummis, meanwhile, signed onto a letter with 22 other GOP senators requesting documentation from the agencies about their plans, following up on a previous request for documents from May.

To date, the White House has not responded to the requests.

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