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Wyoming Above National Average For Uncontested Races

Tennessee Watson
Wyoming Public Radio

Nationally, the average number of uncontested races for seats in state legislatures is close to 40 percent. But in Wyoming, that number is well over 50 percent.

University of Wyoming professor Jim King said that's pretty typical of Wyoming. In a state dominated by the Republican Party, there are often no Democratic opponents.

Of the 15 Wyoming Senate races 9 are uncontested, along with 33 of the 60 Wyoming House races.

Political scientist Gary Moncrief, a Boise State emeritus professor, said a lack of competition can limit voters' ability to hold politicians accountable.

"What that means in terms of democratic theory," Moncrief said, "is there's no way for the public to hold someone accountable for their voting behavior if there's no viable way for them to be contested in an election and to have a legitimate chance of losing."

He said when sizing up if there's healthy political competition that it's even more important to look at the number of contested primary races. In Wyoming, the majority of primary races for State Legislature were also uncontested. Moncrief said that can have consequences for future policymaking.

"It means the conversation is just kind of limited in terms of both what are the problems in the state and what are the solutions," he said.

Moncrief said even when there's competition for nominations within one party it brings vitality to state politics. But compensation for state legislators in Wyoming is among the lowest in the nation, which Moncrief said may limit the number of people who are compelled to run.

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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