LEGISLATIVE WATCH WYOMING: Legislature Limits Wyoming Voters’ Ability to Switch Parties
Gordon says restrictions on crossover voting may be ‘more academic than real’
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Mar 03, 2023
By CJ Baker
Special to the Wyoming Truth
CODY, Wyo.—At a Thursday night meeting of the Park County Republican Party, a round of applause greeted the news that Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon would not stand in the way of a bill that restricts voters’ abilities to switch political parties ahead of the primary election.
Preventing so-called crossover voting has long been a priority for the Wyoming Republican Party leaders, who feel Democrats and independent voters have been temporarily becoming Republicans and helping elect more moderate candidates.
Past attempts to limit party switching have repeatedly failed. But after nearly meeting its demise, the latest effort passed the House and Senate by convincing margins: 51-9 and 19-11, respectively.
House Bill 103’s final hurdle was Gordon, and he let the bill become law without his signature on Thursday night.
“Crossover voting is no longer something that we’ll have to deal with in the state of Wyoming,” Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), the bill’s lead sponsor, declared in a video update. He added that, “It’s a big day. It’s a huge day, in fact.”
Still, after the cheers at the GOP meeting in Cody, Park County Republican Party State Committeeman Vince Vanata cautioned that the fight may not be over. Just like an abortion ban that lawmakers passed a year ago, “it is anticipated that … this is going to be opposed in court,” Vanata said. In case the new law is thwarted, Vanata said he and others will continue gathering signatures for an initiative that would put a similar crossover voting ban in front of Wyoming voters in 2024.
In a news release and letter, Gordon indicated he had reservations about HB 103, stating it “adds uncertainty to the voting process.” He specifically mentioned some ambiguity about whether the legislation could prevent new voters from registering and joining a political party in the lead-up to a primary election. However, Gordon said he’s been assured those “minor flaws” will be clarified before the next primary in August 2024.
“No matter what, the changes resulting from this adjustment to Wyoming law will cause some confusion in the coming primary,” Gordon said. He urged voters “to learn about these changes so that they may vote for their desired major party ballot in 2024.”
Under the new law, voters must choose a political party before candidates begin filing for office in mid-May, 96 days ahead of the primary. A voter’s affiliation determines their ballot for the mid-August election, with one version for Republicans, another for Democrats and a truncated, nonpartisan ballot for unaffiliated and minor party voters.
As HB 103 was debated in the Legislature, critics not only argued against limiting voters’ choices, but contended that the restrictions will simply prompt more moderate and liberal voters to become Republicans. As of Wednesday, 177,326 of the state’s 216,017 voters — or just over 82% — were already registered as Republicans, according to figures from the Secretary of State’s Office. Gordon alluded to the argument and the registration figures on Thursday, saying the prohibition on party switching may be “perhaps more academic than real.”
But Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray — one of the law’s biggest boosters — called it “a pivotal moment for election integrity in Wyoming.”
“This bill means a great deal to the people of Wyoming,” Gray said, adding the legislation “will stop the recurrent problem of crossover voting, a process which has undermined the sanctity of Wyoming’s primary process.”
The push to curb crossover voting gained steam following a hotly contested 2018 Republican primary, which Gordon narrowly won over financier Foster Friess and now-U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman. More conservative Republicans who favored Friess and Hageman attributed Gordon’s win to crossover voters. Their frustration only grew last year, when then-U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney explicitly encouraged Democrats and unaffiliated voters to register as Republicans and vote for her over Hageman.
In Park County, party switchers cast roughly 9.5% of the votes in the 2022 Republican primary — with about 4.6% of those GOP voters having been Democrats earlier in the year. Yet, Cheney lost to Hageman in a landslide, drawing less than 24% of the vote in Park County. And analyses of state registration data from 2018 suggest Gordon would have won the 2018 election even without the switchers.
At Thursday night’s GOP meeting in Cody, former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson asserted that crossover voting “didn’t have a thing to do with Gordon, nothing. Not a sparrow fart.”
“What is the great fear about crossover voting?” the 91-year-old Wyoming Republican Party critic asked the crowd, noting the vast majority of Wyomingites voted for former President Donald Trump. “What the hell are you worried about?”
Simpson charged that “the purity of this party will destroy this party.”
There was some question as to what Gordon would do with HB 103. The governor said Thursday that he “had looked forward to a clean piece of legislation that would ensure Republicans would vote in Republican Primaries and Democrats would vote in Democratic ones.” Despite pressure from Trump and other Republicans, Gordon didn’t publicly push for a crossover voting bill last year.
As HB 103 sat on Gordon’s desk, Rep. Haroldson encouraged his constituents to contact the governor’s office and share their support for the legislation.
“I believe it worked,” Haroldson said in Thursday’s update, adding, “I think he listened to the voice of the people.”