Lawmakers Have Split Reaction To Primary Election Reforms

Jan 22, 2019

An all-Republican legislative committee voted to reject a bill that would have prevented people from switching political parties prior to the primary election.

Senator Bo Biteman said he brought the bill in response to last year's gubernatorial primary where a number of people changed parties to vote Republican.

"I have plenty of screenshots from social media posts from people, they've been a Democrat their whole life, they think it's funny that they were a Republican for a couple of hours and they laughed about gaming the system. That's not a perceived problem that's an actual real problem," said Biteman.

State GOP officials called the issue their top priority this session. But Cheyenne Senator Tara Nethercott said people in Wyoming value their ability to vote for the person they like best.

"I think the party would be surprised the number of true Republicans who don't support the bill. I think there's been a challenge of group think happening within the party. I think there was a knee jerk reaction as a result of this most recent election to come up with some quick solutions, that don't really address the problem," said Nethercott.

While Nethercott opposed the bill, she said she voted for it so that the whole Senate could debate it. Senator Wendy Davis Schuler supported the bill for similar reasons. But Senators Cale Case, Bill Landen and Charlie Scott all voted against the bill with Scott saying a number of his constituents would be rightfully offended by the legislation.

Senator Chris Rothfuss
Credit Wyoming Legislature

The Committee did vote to support a bill by Senator Chris Rothfuss that would set up an open primary where voters would rank candidates and the top two candidates who receive over 30 percent of the vote will face off in the general election.

The idea has attracted interest, but during a hearing, some Republicans expressed concern that Democrats may be negatively impacted by the bill. Rothfuss, a Democrat, noted that Republicans currently own all the top seats in the state and most of the legislature.

"Pretty much anything would be preferable to the current system—if you rolled dice, threw darts at people walking down the street—I think all of those would be a preferable election system in terms of electing more Democrats," Rothfuss said

The Secretary of State's office testified that the current voting system wouldn't be able to handle the proposed changes, but the committee sent the bill to the Senate floor so that the issue could be debated.