Wyoming legislation would ban primary crossover voting

2010-12-04T23:30:00Z Wyoming legislation would ban primary crossover votingBy JOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
December 04, 2010 11:30 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Nearly 10,000 Wyoming voters changed their registration for the primary election in August so they could vote for the other party's candidates.

Most of these crossovers are believed to be Democrats who wanted to vote in the Republican primary for governor.

A bill prepared for introduction in the Legislature next month would prevent voters from changing their registration for party primaries at the polls on election day and switching back after they cast their ballots.

Instead voters would have to decide on their party affiliation 90 days before the primary election unless they are registering for the first time.

Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper, and Rep. Amy Edmonds, R-Cheyenne, are the sponsors of Senate File 13.

"I look at this as a housekeeping bill," Jennings said Friday. "I don't look at it as a big deal. It defines what a primary is."

The bill is saying that voters ought to vote in their own primary election not in the other party's primary election, he said.

The proposal does not prevent voters from changing their registration for the general election.

"We're trying to be certain there is no mischief in Wyoming elections," Edmonds said Thursday. The bill would block groups of voters who decide to change their registration because they want to "meddle" in the other party's primary election.

"When you pick a political party, you should do so thoughtfully. You should not play in the other political party," she said. "What I would like to stop is changing parties at the polls."

Jennings said voters should choose their political party affiliation to match their own philosophy and then they should support the candidates of their political party.

In the August primary election, he said, the Republican Party had a large slate of candidates while the Democrats had difficulty filling their ticket.

"I would hope it would create more competition for those positions," he said of the bill. Democrats should work to get strong candidates they can support, he said.

Both Jennings and Edmonds said they heard comments and complaints about the Democratic crossover voting in the August Republican primary.

"I've had some constituents over the years who complained about crossovers, but they never did anything about it," Jennings said. "I hate to be a whiner and not have a solution," Jennings said.

The reason for a primary, he said, is for party members to sort out which candidates they want to move into the general election.

Representatives of the Equality State Policy Center and the League of Women Voters oppose the bill.

"I think it will be an interesting debate. I'm not opposed to putting the debate on the table," Jennings said. "I'm expecting comments on it because it's changing what we're doing."

Peggy Nighswonger, director of the elections division in the secretary of state's office, said 9,986 voters changed their registrations before or on the August primary election day. The number of Democrats who switched isn't readily available. Nor is a comparison with the number of crossover voters in previous elections because this is the first time the agency ran the numbers.

"This seems to me like an attempt to limit individual political choice," said Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center.

"I don't think it will fly in Wyoming. Wyoming voters have a long history of electing people based upon their character and personal qualities. People ought to be able to support any candidate they believe represents their political views."

"The League of Women Voters supports state law that allows Wyoming residents to register at the polls, which includes new registrations or changing party affiliation," said Marguerite Herman, the league's Wyoming lobbyist. "Who has the authority to say a voter decision on election day is 'mischief?' Certainly not the Legislature or any other branch of government."

The Legislature opens its 40-day general and budget session Jan. 11.

 

Contact Joan Barron at joan.barron@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

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