Voter crossover, ID bills get interim review

CASPER — A pair of failed bills from the 2019 general session intended to improve the “integrity” of Wyoming elections will be getting a second look from state lawmakers this interim. 

The two bills – one to require photo identification at the polls, the other to limit the practice of “crossover voting” in the state’s primary elections – will be reworked by the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Committee on Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions and potentially, introduced during the 2020 budget session, committee members decided at its Monday meeting in Casper. 

Versions of both pieces of legislation were backed by an enthusiastic coalition of conservative voters throughout the 2019 general session, and received significant amounts of support from lawmakers. 

Sponsored by Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, HB-192 – which would have required voters to present a form of photo identification at the polls – came within one vote of passing the House of Representatives in this winter’s legislative session. 

The bill was opposed by groups like the Wyoming ACLU and the Equality State Policy Center, and many argued it would have disenfranchised impoverished voters or tribal members on the Wind River Indian Reservation. A representative from the Secretary of State’s office, meanwhile, told lawmakers during the session that she was unaware of any recent reported cases of voter fraud in Wyoming. 

Some who voted against the bill did so largely because of uncertainty of what an acceptable form of photo identification actually was, leaving open the possibility of otherwise eligible voters being barred from casting their vote. 

“I think people were supportive of it,” said Gray. “Some had concerns, and if it went through the committee process, I think those concerns could have been addressed.” 

In response to a request from Gray, the Legislative Service Office drafted a memo last month specifying the forms of identification that the Secretary of State’s office considers acceptable at the polls, as well as offering guidance to election officers and voters who may have their identification challenged or rejected. 

“I think there’s really widespread support for this bill,” he added. “If you’re asking for proof, I can get you the metrics on that, but I think it transcends party affiliation … this is about confidence in our system and about voter fraud. I think the committee should take this on and discuss it with vigor.” 

Several members of the public in attendance were supportive of the bill. Max Morton, from Natrona County, argued the nation was “being invaded as we speak,” an apparent reference to a narrative pushed by conservative media over migrant caravans approaching the southern border of the United States, and that photo identification requirements would prevent them from voting illegally: a narrative often pushed with no evidence available to support it. 

“Speaking as a conservative, the ACLU opposes voter I.D., so I’m for it,” said Mike Pyatt, a former Mills Town Council member. 

Others, like Fremont County Democratic Committee Member Bruce Palmer, felt the bill was a solution in search of a problem, and was not actually needed to address voter fraud. While numerous studies have shown photo identification requirements at the polls have little to no impact on voter turnout (an argument often made by opponents of photo I.D. requirements) the laws have little impact on reducing instances of voter fraud, which are also rare. 

“As I was listening to testimony, I was making a list of actual problems I’ve seen over the years with voter fraud, and they’re very sparse,” said Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, who voted to bring the bill back. “We just don’t have a real problem. What we’re thinking about is preventative measures – and I support that – but I think it should be a general session and not a budget session issue. It’s just not a crisis-level issue right now.” 

Ending the practice of crossover voting – or switching one’s political party in order to vote in the opposing party’s primary election – has been considered the state Republican Party’s chief priority since last year’s primaries. 

In the governor’s race, many conservatives accused Democrats and moderate voters of interfering in the election by changing parties to support the moderate GOP candidate, now Gov. Mark Gordon, over more conservative candidates. Others, meanwhile, argue that Wyoming politics – which have long been dominated by Republicans – has ceased to be competitive and voters often switch parties in order to have a voice, and have their vote count. 

Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, voted against reviving the bill, arguing that it would disenfranchise newcomers to his district who may have been drawn to the area by jobs in the oil and gas sector. 

“At least in my district, we get a fair amount of turnover – people moving in and out of state who might not be familiar with the parties, and may not declare one,” he said. “This would prevent them from voting in the primary. That’s a mistake, and will offend people quite rightly who feel they would be left out.” 

Others voting against the bill included Rep. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, and Sen. Wendy Davis Schuler, R-Evanston. The 2020 legislation, said committee co-chairman Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, will likely be based off of a version of a crossover voting bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Blackburn, R-Cheyenne, during the last session. 

That bill, HB-106, ended up passing in the House of Representatives before failing in the Senate.