A crossover voting bill clears a new committee and moves forward in the Senate
A bill that would prohibit crossover voting for a specified period before primary and general elections has cleared the Senate Revenue Committee on a 4-1 vote after being recalled from the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee on a failed 1-3-1 vote.
The Senate voted to withdraw House Bill 103 from the Corporations Committee on a close 16-14 vote on Feb. 14 per that chamber’s rules that allow for bills to be reintroduced in another committee, though this isn’t a regular practice. Sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), the bill has been touted by Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray who claims that crossover voting has tainted the integrity of the state’s elections.
“Crossover voting is undermining the sanctity of Wyoming's primary process by allowing voters to cross over into another party's primary election, allowing people to change their party affiliation up to the day of the primary election and then change back [which] dilutes our primary system,” Gray said at the Corporations Committee hearing on Feb. 16. “It creates incentives for people who do not share a party's values to nonetheless prevent voters of that party from electing a candidate that represents the party's platform by crossing over for as little as a day an hour or a few minutes and then cross back. By contrast, ending crossover voting allows members of each party to pick a candidate that represents the voters of that party, disincentivizing these tactics and strengthening the party process and our election process.”
The bill would prohibit voters from changing parties before the first day on which an application for public office may be filed. It would also impose a 14-day blackout period before a general election that would prohibit party switching and disallow voters to cancel their registration during these periods with the objective of preventing those seeking to re-register with a new party affiliation.
Gray added that states such as New York, Delaware, Kentucky have a much longer lockout period than what House Bill 103 would implement and that these states’ laws have cleared constitutional challenges, which have been claimed by some critics of the bill, including the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the Motor Voter Act.
Bills have been introduced to place limits on crossover voting in the past few legislative sessions but none have become law. Supporters say the practice has been an issue and has affected the outcomes of numerous elections at various levels while critics claim it isn’t nearly the issue it’s made out to be and infringes on a candidate’s ability to vote for candidate(s) they support, among others.
The practice gained more attention during the 2022 election cycle as some Democrats switched to the Republican Party to vote for Wyoming’s former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who ultimately lost her race to U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman by nearly 40 percentage points. Criticism of the practice was also noted in the 2018 election cycle when some voters switched to vote for Mark Gordon over Foster Friess for governor, both of whom ran as Republicans.
“I really appreciate you senators resurrecting this bill. Yes, we all know, because for years and years and years, we fought to get this bill forward. It's not much different than the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s," said Sherri Davis of Sundance. "I don't think the McCoy’s would appreciate the Hatfield’s coming and choosing who was going to represent them, and we've certainly had that for quite some time."
Other supporters listed a sense of disillusionment at the current way of how voting practices are set up.
“The whole purpose of a political party is to promote ideals and have candidates promoted, who promote and uphold those ideals. That's the whole purpose of a political party, so that our GOP people are feeling disenfranchised by the way things are right now,” said Kathy Russell, Executive Director of the Wyoming Republican Party. “In other states, the party is allowed to put out the different qualifications and experiences of candidates [called a party notebook]. We're not allowed to do that here, we cannot speak during the primary about the candidates as a party, and so people are really surprised that we don't have that here. So, one of the reasons why we rely so heavily on the platform is that's the first vetting of a candidate–[a] here's what we believe…we're very much in favor of this bill. We feel like it addresses all the issues that have been raised before.”
Those who voiced opposition or concern to what the bill would do indicated that it wouldn’t necessarily achieve what it’s set out to do.
“In Crook County, we're the reddest county in the reddest state. That's a fact, but what has occurred over that time period, is that there's not been another contested Democratic primary since that time [since the early 1990s], and what has happened then, as is any kind of a contested race that has occurred in our county, from local officials, statewide officials, those sorts of things have always been in the Republican Party,” said Crook County attorney Joseph Baron, a Democrat. “I've looked at these numbers and keep track of these numbers since I started in 1990. It's real, when people cross over, ultimately, they don't cross back. And so whether good, bad or indifferent, that's what happens when people can't vote for their local sheriff's office, when you have candidates that are running for that or for some other local position because people like to vote locally.”
Baron pointed out that there were approximately 600 registered Democrats in Crook County in 1990, a figure that has declined to around 120 presently, which is due in part to them registering as Republicans to have a greater political say in local races.
“What I really think this just bill will take care of crossover voting, but I think what's going to happen because of the timing of it, everyone is going to cross over and they're going to stay there,” said Sen. Stephan Pappas (R-Cheyenne), the only member of the Revenue committee to vote against the bill. “This will drive more and more people to become Republicans and not to come back to the Democratic Party, which if that's what the Republican Party wants a bunch of Democrats in their party, this is what it's going to do. I just don't understand the fear that's behind this. I mean, I don't fear it but apparently a lot of people fear it. But I don't understand that kind of fear in a state that we're overwhelmingly Republican. But those that didn't cross back, we've heard some testimony to the point that they haven't.”
The Wyoming County Clerk’s Association doesn’t have an official position on the bill but expressed concern about how the changes it would bring about would impact voters.
“We're concerned about voter education as this will be a major change as far as declaring their party early and if there's any confusion that goes along with that because they'll need to be changed in May to be able to vote in an August election,” said Mary Lankford, a representative of the Association. “Disenfranchised voters in Wyoming, 11 percent of our voters in Wyoming are either independent or unaffiliated voters today. That's about 33,000 people [and] they would not be able to declare a party and vote on election day.”
The bill has been placed on the Senate’s General File and will be voted on at a later date.