CASPER — Lawmakers on Monday defeated two controversial bills that would have had significant implications on Wyoming’s elections.
The bills — one to eliminate the practice of crossover voting in primary elections, another to combat voter fraud by requiring photo identification at the polls — have received considerable attention since first appearing last fall, inspired by national concerns over voter fraud and the revelation that thousands of voters purposefully switched their party affiliations to participate in the 2018 Republican primaries — which some speculated helped to elect a more moderate candidate to the governorship.
Both bills were considered priorities for conservatives, receiving significant amounts of support from party leadership on their way to some success. During this winter’s legislative session, the crossover voting bill was introduced — and killed — numerous times, and the photo identification requirement, sponsored by Casper Republican Rep. Chuck Gray, narrowly failed in a 30-29 vote on the House floor.
Despite their previous success, both bills were defeated by sound margins at Monday’s meeting of the Joint Committee on Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions in Jackson. Gillette Republicans Rep. Scott Clem and Rep. Roy Edwards were the only members of the committee to vote for both pieces of legislation.
Lawmakers had spent months reworking the crossover voting bill and had appeared to have reached a compromise in a much-haggled over cutoff date for party switching, at two weeks prior to the election. However, several people at Monday’s meeting said numerous flaws remained in the legislation.
Some were concerned that absentee ballot voters — with a significantly longer timeframe to register their votes — could be given preferential treatment over traditional electors. Others were worried about the constitutionality of limiting people’s freedom to affiliate with whichever party they wanted, with Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, speculating such a restriction could potentially be at odds with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Case also noted a glaring loophole in the bill that would have allowed voters to unregister to vote, and then re-register with another party on the day of the election. Though Clem suggested an amendment to the bill to prevent this, the amendment — and the bill — were both defeated, with a final vote of 9 to 5.
Gray’s bill enjoyed even less success, despite having much more support in the House of Representatives this past winter.
“With fraud so common these days, proper identification is required for so many important things in life,” Gray wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune. “And yet for voting, which is so important to everyone’s future, proper identification is not required. This bill would simply require a photo ID at the polls to protect our elections from voter fraud.”
However, some — like Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson — argued the bill was simply another barrier to a citizen’s ability to vote. Others, like committee chairman Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said that the bill contained enough ambiguity to give him pause that it might have unintended consequences.
But the most compelling testimony against the bill came from AARP lobbyist Tom Lacock, who highlighted a study from the Brennan Center for Justice showing that nearly one-fifth of American citizens over the age of 65 do not have a government-issued I.D. He drove this point home by providing each member of the committee with a document highlighting voter turnout statistics for each of their individual districts, demonstrating the outsized role senior citizens have in Wyoming’s elections.
Though Lacock suggested other forms of identification could be added to the language of the bill to benefit senior citizens — a position Gray expressed he was fluid on — the bill was defeated shortly after, 14-2.
Gray, however, believes the committee could have found a fix if it wanted to, noting in an emailed statement to the Star-Tribune after the vote that other states, like Georgia, have successfully found ways to implement photo identification requirements at the polls, including the issuance of voter I.D. cards, the acceptance of insurance documents, or other forms of identification.
“This bill was about protecting our state from voter fraud and there are easy ways that the committee could have addressed any legitimate concerns,” he wrote. “Law-abiding citizens deserve this common sense safe guard and I hope soon politicians finally heed what citizens want and deserve — safe and fair elections.”