For decades, Wyoming voters have been able to switch political parties at the polls to participate in the primary election of their choice.
Wyomingites have typically used this ability to vote for the candidate they think is best, regardless of that candidate’s political party.
In Wyoming, where many elections are effectively decided during the primaries, this has provided voters the ability to retain whichever political affiliation they choose, but also to cast a vote that counts.
No longer. Beginning with the 2024 elections, Wyoming voters must pick a party and stick with it through the primary elections prior to even knowing which candidates are running.
That’s because the Wyoming Legislature passed a new law in 2023 that bans “crossover voting” after years of attempts and debates.
Voters hoping to make their voice heard in Wyoming politics should mark May 1 on their calendars as the very last day they can register for a party (if they are an independent or “unaffiliated” voter) or switch from one party to another to vote in a 2024 primary election.
People who are currently registered with the party in whose primary they want to vote do not have to re-register. Even though the law is ambiguous—one reason Governor Mark Gordon declined to sign it—it does not explicitly appear to affect people who newly register to vote.
While the “crossover voting” ban has received wide attention in Wyoming news outlets, there will nevertheless be countless people who show up to vote in August 2024 unaware of the new law, and who will be turned away.
As control of the Wyoming Legislature teeters on a razor’s edge between traditional Republicans and the far-right Freedom Caucus, the future of our state’s politics could depend on how many people realize they need to take an extra action before they cast a 2024 ballot.
County Clerks’ burden
The burden to educate residents about this significant change in election law will fall upon Wyoming’s 23 county clerks and their staffers.
The Wyoming County Clerks Association remained neutral during the yearslong debates over proposed “crossover voting” bans. The group never officially endorses nor opposes legislation.
County Clerks cautioned that such a substantial change would require widespread public education.
At the same time, several clerks cautioned legislators that such a substantial change would require widespread public education to let residents know about the extra step some would need to take in order to vote.
Debra Lee, clerk of Laramie County, told Better Wyoming that the WCCA may recommend that the Legislature appropriate funds for a major statewide voter information campaign. The individual county clerks do not have nearly enough money in their budgets to launch such a coordinated effort, she said.
After The Wyoming Legislature passed its first-ever voter ID law in 2021, then-Secretary of State Ed Buchanan’s office executed a campaign to inform the public. It featured multimedia advertising, a special website, and broadcast information statewide about what identification is required to vote.
It is unclear whether current Secretary of State Chuck Gray, who actively lobbied the Legislature on behalf of the “crossover voting” ban this year, will do anything similar.
Supporters of the ban on “crossover voting” argue that it appropriately prioritizes party allegiance, or “purity.” They contend that only diehard supporters of a party’s platform should be the ones who decide its nominees.
“I think your party affiliation membership really transcends who the candidates are,” Secretary of State Gray told a legislative committee this session.
Many Wyoming voters, however, prefer to vote for the best candidate, regardless of their party. This will become in many cases impossible under the new law, since voters will be forced to pick a party before the period when candidates can legally file to run for office.
The biggest single supporter of banning crossover voting in recent years has been the Wyoming State Republican Party.
The party’s interest in the issue began after Foster Friess lost the 2018 gubernatorial election to Mark Gordon. Friess accused RINOs—Republicans in Name Only—of stealing the contest for Gordon.
The GOP’s interest became an obsession, however, after former Wyoming Congressman Liz Cheney sent out mailers to Democrats instructing them how to switch parties to vote in her 2022 primary against Harriet Hageman.
“I don’t think this bill does at all what the intent is. You’re about to let a herd of RINOs in.”
Hageman, of course, proceeded to stomp Cheney in the election.
It seems, however, that like many people consumed by obsession, the Wyoming State GOP ignored a massive blind spot in its logic. By prohibiting Democrats, Independents, and others from switching parties to vote in a GOP primary and then switching back, anyone who cares about Wyoming politics will simply register Republican and remain.
This fact was not lost on every Wyoming legislator who supported the “crossover voting” ban.
Senate President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) told his colleagues that, for all their enthusiasm to keep “RINOs” out of Republican primaries, they were going about it the wrong way.
“I don’t think this bill does at all what the intent is,” Driskill said. “You’ve heard the old saying about the camel having its nose under the tent? Well folks, you’re about to let a herd of RINOs in.”
Wyoming voters have until May 1, 2024, to register with a party or switch parties in advance of the next primary election. Contact your local county clerk for more information.