Trump, Jr.-Backed Wyo Election Runoff Bill Passes Committee; Moves to Senate

A high-profile bill backed by Donald Trump, Jr. that creates Wyoming's first runoff election system for the state's primaries moved through the Senate Corporations Committee on Thursday morning.

Jimmy Orr

March 11, 20215 min read

Trump jr side
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A high-profile bill that creates Wyoming’s first runoff election system for the state’s primaries moved through the Senate Corporations Committee on Thursday morning.

By a 4-1 vote, the committee advanced SF145, which would call for a runoff election if no candidate wins a majority of votes in a primary.

Unique about this bill is the giant megaphone behind it. Earlier this week, Former President Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., let his 6.7 million Twitter followers know that any Wyoming legislator who doesn’t support this legislation is “turning their back on my father and the entire America First movement.”

When Trump tweeted his message, he listed the names and email addresses of the committee’s members. He also made it clear that his support of the legislation had everything to do with getting Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney defeated.

“Support SF145 and lets send Lincoln Project Liz into retirement in 2022!” he said.

Trump was not mentioned during the proceedings Thursday morning.

But bill co-sponsor Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, did say he was a longtime believer in the runoff system and the bill not proposed to target anyone in particular.

“I’m not on this bill to target any particular individual or race,” Salazar told the committee. “It’s the policy of how we run elections here in Wyoming is is what I’m concerned about.” 

Proponents of the legislation testifying in front of the committee said the runoff election system is an improvement over the existing system as it would increase voter turnout, ensure that the elected individual had the support of a majority of voters and improve the quality of debates.

“If we had two candidates, then you could have real debates, instead of a beauty pageant, where you get a dozen people to come up and speak for 15 seconds, you’d actually be able to hear both candidates on the policy issues in a debate on NPR and elsewhere, and you could really do a deep dive with them,” said Darin Smith, a 2016 candidate for Congress.

Detractors on the other hand, said a change to the current system isn’t necessary, while others said there is not enough time before the next election cycle to get the change in place. Others said the costs associated with the change would be prohibitive.

Jim Willox, former head of the Wyoming Republican Party, called the bill a “solution in search of a problem.”

“This bill is based on a false premise,” he said. “And that’s that our election system is broken. I don’t believe our election system is broken. I’ll be honest, nobody has come to me and said it doesn’t work.”

In fact, runoff elections have the potential to backfire, he said, speculating that if it weren’t for runoff elections, Republicans would still hold the majority in the U.S. Senate.

“Think about this, if we didn’t have a runoff in Georgia, the Republicans would control the United States Senate right now and think how much different that would be for Wyoming right now,” he said.

Willox also said that the impact of a runoff election — which would add a third election to one campaign season — would limit the ability of candidates with less money to get involved.

“You’re narrowing the field of candidates that those that are wealthy or that can raise enough money because a special election, as we have seen in other places is extremely expensive,” he said.

Willox was joined in his opposition by Bill Novotny, speaking on behalf of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association.

Novotony said his organization does not take a position on any legislation unless 70% of its members agree to support or oppose it. SF145 was something, he said, Wyoming’s commissioners agree on.

“This would be an unfunded mandate on the counties,” Novotny said. “Unless the Legislature is prepared to appropriate the funds necessary to conduct a third election, we are not in a position to take on any additional liabilities.”

To that end, the committee amended the bill to allocate $1.5 million to help pay for costs associated with a runoff election.

Both costs and time were sticking points for the Wyoming County Clerks Association.

Mary Lankford, speaking on behalf of the 23 county clerks, said the estimated cost of a runoff election would be at least $1.1 million.

In addition, she said, there is no time to implement a runoff system by 2022.

“The county clerks are unable to develop a timetable to accommodate the requirements of this bill,” she said. “The County Clerks Association believes that time equals integrity, and would be happy to continue this conversation and participate in an interim study to produce the comprehensive changes required to administer runoff election.”

Hearing concerns over the time it would take to implement a runoff election, Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, a co-sponsor, suggested moving the implementation date until January, 2023.

This amendment, which was unanimously supported by the committee, means that Cheney’s next race would not be affected by the legislation if passed by the full Legislature.

Cassie Craven, representing the Wyoming Liberty Group, said she believed more people would become involved in the process with the addition of a runoff.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more voter turnout under a system like this, people are going to be excited, they’re going to be more involved, they’re going to feel like the party is more unified,” Craven said.

Share this article



Jimmy Orr

Executive Editor

A third-generation Wyomingite, Jimmy Orr is the executive editor and co-founder of Cowboy State Daily.