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Wyoming Republicans Skeptical Of Democrats' Push For Election Reform

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House Democrats are pushing an effort to overhaul the nation's election and ethics laws. But Wyoming Republicans say the effort is a smokescreen to help keep Democrats in power.

House Resolution 1, or HR 1, is a coveted and symbolic way to mark the Democrats' priorities. It's a grab bag of different items Democrats have wanted for years, like efforts to make the government more transparent and to get corporate PAC money out of politics.

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso is not impressed. He said one of its worst provisions is to allow matching public financing of congressional campaigns along with other mandates included in it.

"The people of Wyoming are not going to support full government funding of elections. We're not going to support Washington coming in and telling us how to run our elections," he said.

While President Trump's own election fraud commission came back empty handed after they looked for patterns of illegal voting nationwide in 2016, last year a North Carolina Republican candidate hired a man who allegedly engaged in voter fraud, so the state needs to hold another election this year.

Still, Barrasso said he remains concerned about undocumented workers voting.

"You want to make sure that the people who vote are actual citizens and are residents of the state in which they're actually voting. There's absolutely fraud [that] occurs," he said.

Many Democrats also want to set up a national holiday on Election Day in order to encourage wider turnout, but Barrasso doesn't like that idea either, even though he likes a high voter turnout.

"You want everyone to vote. You want them to vote. You want citizens to vote. It's a right that we all have, and you want to make sure people exercise it," he said.

Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney said the legislation embodies Democrats big government approach and that it's an overreach.

"We have I think a very important role for the states in our election process," she said. "The last thing we should want to do is suck power away from the people."

Cheney also said the legislation is a thinly veiled attempt to make Democrats the permanent majority party.

"This bill is not about making it easier for legitimate registered voters to vote. This bill is about keeping Democrats in office," she said. "It's about skewing our election process so that Democrats have an advantage. And it's about imposing governmental control over our fundamental constitutional rights-freedom of speech. It's a dangerous bill. It's a bad bill."

Supporters say the legislation is an attempt to overhaul the nation's election laws in the wake of the Supreme Court Citizens United ruling that gave corporations the ability to spend unlimited amounts on elections.

Former Wyoming Senator Al Simpson said something needs to be done.

"Anything to get rid of the Citizens United decisions which opened the door to unlimited amounts of money by anonymous people, which will eventually destroy the system," he said.

Simpson said he'd also be fine with having federal tax dollars go towards helping fund local elections.

"It'd sure as hell be better than this. At least you'd know who got what," he said.

Simpson said the biggest problem with so much money in politics is that it has eroded trust in the nation's elected leaders.

"It makes the guy on the bar stool in Cody, Wyoming or Buffalo or Moorcroft, it makes [them] say one thing: 'These guys are corrupt. They're getting money.' And all you've got to do is follow the money, and you go and look at their voting record and it's pretty easy to follow the money," he said.

Cheney said unlimited election spending is protected by the First Amendment and is a form of speech. She says she can support some reforms though, even if they're much more modest than what Democrats are pushing.

"The solution is transparency. The solution is making sure everybody knows who is contributing to people. The solution is ensuring that, if you make a campaign contribution, I think we ought to have a rule that you've got immediate disclosure. I think that would be an important step," she said.

While HR 1 is Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats' top priority, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he's not going to allow it to come up for a vote in his chamber. That means the legislation is as much about the 2020 presidential election as it is about fixing the nation's electoral process.

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.

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