By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A measure aimed at keeping voters from changing parties to influence the outcome of primary elections won unanimous support Wednesday from the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee.
The committee voted 5-0 to send the measure to the full Senate for debate.
The committee recommended slightly amending the bill’s language to better clarify the deadline for people looking to change their party affiliation before a primary or general election.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, who testified on the importance of the legislation before the committee late Tuesday.
“It’s just to prevent people from gaming the system,” he said.
Current Wyoming law allows voters to change their party affiliations as late as the day of a primary or general election.
If Senate File 97 is signed into law, it would specify that people wishing to change party affiliation would have to do so about three months prior to a primary election or between the primary and general elections.
Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, questioned whether someone who moved into a district after the cut-off date would be allowed to register to vote. Biteman clarified that the person would be allowed to register and vote, but would be unable to switch party affiliations during that time.
Biteman also noted that the legislation would not affect any new voter registrations that might occur after the cutoff date, such as when a voter turns 18 or moves into Wyoming from another state.
The cutoff date for voters to change their party affiliation would be around 97 days before the primary election and one day before the filing deadline for candidates.
Biteman told the committee he was attempting to stop Democrats from waiting to see who runs in Republican elections and changing their party affiliations in order to affect the outcome of the Republican primary and general elections.
“I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do and I think it’s time we change that,” Biteman said.
Wyoming Elections Division Director Kai Schon said that as written, the legislation could be implemented with only a small, one-time fiscal impact due to the change of the statewide voter registration system and the state electronic pollbook.
The estimated cost would be a little more than $12,000, and the changes would be implemented next year, he said.
Mary Lankford, Sublette County Clerk, spoke as a representative of county clerks across the state, along with Fremont County Clerk Julie Friess.
Lankford said the state’s county clerks were mostly in support of the legislation, but wanted more clarification for the cutoff date.
Lankford said the clerks were concerned about non-partisan voters in the state becoming disenfranchised due to the legislation. She said that many voters in the state have no affiliation and wait until they see who is running to decide which election to participate in.