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Wyoming's Legislature Considering Voter ID Law

Tom Arthur via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

After the 2020 election, legislatures across the country are considering new voting laws.

And while no widespread voter fraud has been proven, it has not stopped conservative lawmakers from looking for solutions and new preventive measures.

Wyoming is no exception, with its legislature considering a bill that would require a voter to show an ID before voting in-person.

A person would have to provide a driver's license, state or tribal ID card, a passport, military ID, a state public school or college ID or a Medicare card.

While the original name of the bill was directed at fraud, voter fraud has not been a big issue in Wyoming.

"Probably over a couple of decades, we've really had a handful, only, of documented cases of voter fraud that have resulted in criminal conviction. And that's since the year 2000. So I would say voter fraud is rare in Wyoming," said Secretary of State Ed Buchannan.

He said the bill is preventive and it can be useful to provide more security, especially when it comes to voting in local elections where only a handful of votes can decide a race.

After debate in the House, the bill's title was amended to just "voter identification."

"All I'm doing is taking out the word 'fraud prevention' and inserting 'identification,' so the bill title is 'voter identification.' That's what we're trying to do. We've got a great system and we want to keep it great and take this next step," said House Revenue Committee Chair Steve Harshman, when he proposed changing the bill's name.

But this would be a change from how Wyoming currently votes. Crook County Clerk Linda Fritz said right now it's just a verbal confirmation.

"The process right now as it stands is that the voter has to identify themselves, and give their name, their physical address, oftentimes, their mailing address, and in the case of a primary election, they need to give their party so that we make sure they get the right party ballot," she said.

Fritz added the kind of voter fraud that appears most often in the state is when a felon registers to vote on election day and votes, but they have not yet had their voting rights restored. But she said this bill doesn't address that issue.

The bill has also been amended to include a fee waiver for getting a state ID card for the purposes of voting. And the addition of the Medicare card will provide an option for older Wyomingites who may not have an ID anymore.

There have been concerns about what barriers this bill could potentially create. Jackson Rep. Mike Yin said, under this bill, when a voter doesn't bring their ID to the polls on election day, they won't be turned away but they'll only be allowed to fill out a ballot that can't be counted until they prove their identity.

"I think it's one more thing that you have to do that you've never had to do before in Wyoming," Yin said. "The barrier is essentially for people who may not have any ID on them, but are registered to vote already, they either have to fill out a provisional ballot, or come back. I think statistically, if enough people are turned away, some percent of them will not come back."

But the bill has wide support across both the House and the Senate, with close to 60 lawmakers sponsoring the bill. Many supporters, including its lead sponsor, Casper Rep. Chuck Gray, said this will address Wyomingites concerns with election security.

"This is about ensuring our place, our state's place, as the gold standard of the country, and making sure our state believes in our elections, which is essential," Gray said on the House floor.

Secretary of State Buchannan said he thinks the reassurance may be able to improve voter participation.

"I think, for the most part, people see our elections in a positive light. But if you can let them know that you're being proactive in preventing fraud, and making sure your processes are tight, then they know that their vote counts. And I think that can go a long way towards hopefully reducing a lot of the voter apathy that you see," he said.

But Rep. Yin said this shouldn't be the way voters gain more confidence in the voting process.

"I think what solves that problem is election officials helping educate people on the process that happens," he said. "Then the leader is showing leadership, which is essentially telling the public what they already know, which is our elections are secure, right? So people gain confidence, when their leaders are also confident."

The bill will soon be considered in the Wyoming Senate. But at the same time, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would allow for a workaround for voters in states with voter identification laws by providing a written statement.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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