Lawmakers Discuss Adding a 30-day Residency Requirement to Voter Laws
Secretary of State says law would address “anecdotal” reports of fraud
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Aug 25, 2023
Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) speaks with Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper) in January during the 2023 Legislative Session in the Senate Chambers. Both Case and Landen sit on the Corporations Committee, which met in Douglas Thursday. (Photo by Michael Smith)
By Carrie Haderlie
Special to the Wyoming Truth
There isn’t much stopping a busload of out-of-state people from voting in Wyoming’s elections, Secretary of State Chuck Gray told a panel of lawmakers Thursday.
“I do think there is a real risk here,” Gray said during a Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee meeting in Douglas. “I’ve had calls that people had suspicions that people have been bused in. They have seen a bus in a certain community [on Election Day].”
Gray’s comments came as lawmakers discussed draft legislation called “Voter qualifications-durational residency requirement,” which would require a qualified elector to be a “bona fide resident of the state of Wyoming for not less than thirty days before the election in which they may offer to vote.” With seven pieces of elections-related law to discuss, the committee spent over two hours on the topic, ultimately voting to table it until the next meeting Oct. 26-27 in Cheyenne.
Oath of residency and voter fraud
Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) asked why the committee was considering such a bill.
“The general question I have is, ‘Why bother? What issue is there causing the need for this bill?’” Scott said.
Gray thanked the committee for taking up the discussion at the request of his office, saying he fully supports a 30-day oath of residency be added to the state law.
“We have the existing requirements for registration, we have existing requirements for voter ID. Those are in place regardless,” Gray said, adding that electors in Wyoming already pledge that they are residents, with no stipulated time period.
“This updates the oath to say that you’ve been a bona fide resident for 30 days,” Gray said. “At present, Wyoming remains one of a few states without some sort of durational residency requirement.”
Five of Wyoming’s six neighboring states have durational residency requirements for voters, according to Lucas Plumb, staff attorney for the Legislative Service Office. Nebraska is the only neighboring state that does not require residency for any fixed period of time before someone can vote.
“Appropriate requirements like a residency requirement help to ensure integrity in our elections by making sure Wyomingites, and only Wyomingites, are voting in our elections,” Gray said.
Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) pointedly asked Gray to describe cases where he “believed people who were not Wyomingites were voting in Wyoming elections.”
“Can you elucidate on any of those cases you’ve seen, where people are voting in Wyoming elections when they shouldn’t be?” Yin asked.
Gray did not point to a specific incident, noting that “voter fraud is a very difficult thing to pinpoint, and we are working on that a great deal.”
He did pose a hypothetical situation in which a person who was staying in a Wyoming hotel for five days, was looking for a job and satisfied current voter identification requirements “definitely could” vote in a Wyoming election.
“There has never been any complaint to that effect before?” Yin asked.
“We don’t have records back to ad nauseam, but I have heard anecdotally all sorts of things,” Gray said. “That happened before I entered office, and we haven’t had an election during my time in office. I was sworn in Jan. 2 … but any of that anecdotal information I’ve been privy to for years, now I have the authority to investigate through our formal complaint process.”
County clerks’ response and public comment
Malcolm Ervin, Platte County Clerk and president of the County Clerks Association of Wyoming, said that while his organization did not have a policy comment on the proposed legislation, members did have concerns over its language.
The definition of “bona fide resident” of Wyoming is “vague and difficult to definitively prove given current requirements,” he said, quoting a letter to the committee from the County Clerks Association.
“Often, Wyoming’s county clerks get the brunt of accusations when citizens believe some individuals are misrepresenting themselves as Wyoming residents,” Irvine read. “For instance, the presence of vehicles with out-of-state license plates at polling places has caused some to call into question the process by which county clerks validate a person’s residence – specifically on election day.”
Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said he agreed people may disagree about what a “bona fide resident” meant.
“It could be in your head for an instant, it could be in your head for a day, it could be in your head for 30 days,” Case said.
But Gray said that stipulating a time period made the question an objective one.
“This is a durational residency requirement, not a residency requirement,” Gray said.
During further public comment, Gail Symons, who was elected as a Republican precinct committee person in 2020 in Sheridan County but identified herself as being with Civics 307 Thursday, said the change would be unnecessary. She presented the committee with registration data she said could be used as a proxy for residency, which showed no evidence of voter fraud.
“The latest election fraud claims [are] that people are swooping in from outside to commit fraud and then [are] bailing out of the state,” Symons said. “They want to influence the course of the elections. But, on a side note, we have one or more snake oil salesmen peddling fear of fraud within the state without any data or facts to back it up.”
However, Cheyenne resident Don Odom, who ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature in 2022, said he supports the draft legislation.
“My reasoning is [that] legitimate, fraud-free elections are the foundation of our republic,” Odom said. “Even if we do not have any documented cases of it happening in Wyoming, we need to take every precaution to ensure that they don’t start.”