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A bill that limits crossover voting is headed to the governor

Tom Arthur
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

House Bill 103, which places restrictions on crossover voting, is headed to Gov. Mark Gordon for action after passing both chambers of the legislature. Sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), it would prohibit voters from changing their party affiliation 96 days prior to a primary election and 14 days before a general election. That means voters have to affiliate with a party before the filing date period opens for candidates.

The bill died during its journey through the Senate when it failed on a 1-3-1 vote in the Senate Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee on Feb. 9. It was then revived by a rarely used rule that allows for a bill to be recalled from one committee and referred to another. The Senate Revenue Committee, which was seen as more sympathetic to the bill, approved its passage on a 4-1 vote on Feb. 16. It then made its way through the Senate and passed on 19-11-1 vote after three readings on Feb. 24.

“Everybody that's tried to shoot holes in this bill has had ample opportunity to shoot holes in this bill,” said Rep. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester). “This bill is solid for what it’s purpose is, and I think it's ready for primetime the way it is.”

Two amendments were adopted by the Senate. These included adding language about a qualified elector to specify who is already a registered voter and who is a new voter. The second amendment, brought about by Biteman, eliminated this language the following day.

Many more amendments failed to be adopted during the bill’s journey through the legislature. These included proposals that would have reduced the primary blackout period as well as for allowing political parties to opt out. Another concern was what would happen if someone turned 18 during the blackout period, which it was later clarified they would be able to register.

This is the ninth time that bills to restrict crossover voting have been introduced in the legislature. The previous eight made various levels of progress before ultimately failing to be signed into law. Two other anti-crossover voting bills were brought this session but failed to make it out of committee or be considered for further debate.

Opponents of the bill argued that the bill was a power grab and is intended to silence dissent within the Republican Party.

“I’m worried that we’re at war,” Case said. “The only acceptable amount of majority party representation is total victory, and with it the majority party, they will purge the members that are more free-thinking perhaps or think a little bit more liberally. They will call them names and they will demand that people adhere to party platforms but by all accounts we are becoming more polarized and when you become more polarized, you want absolute control. That’s what this bill does.”

The Wyoming County Clerk’s Association said it doesn’t have an official position on the bill but has provided testimony from an administrative standpoint 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 Wyoming County Clerk Association earlier this month. “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.”

However the bill does include language about voting a nonpartisan ballot for unaffiliated voters.

“An elector may vote only the nonpartisan ballot and if so, is not required to declare his party affiliation,” the bill reads. “Requesting a partisan primary election ballot constitutes a declaration of party affiliation.”

Crossover voting has drawn the ire of some in the Wyoming GOP after the 2018 and 2020 election cycles 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. 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. Claims that these elections were swayed by crossover voting hasn’t proven statistically accurate, though they have continued since.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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