A bill intended to keep voters from changing parties to influence the outcome of primary elections won final approval from the Senate on Friday.
The Senate passed Senate File 97, sending it to the House of Representatives on a vote of 18-12 after lengthy debate.
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. Currently, voters may change party affilitation up to the day of a primary or general election.
“I vote for people because I think they’re the best,” Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, said during the floor debate. “To be honest, I’ve had a couple friends on the other side who’ve crossed over and voted for me. But they ain’t gonna be able to do it no more, if this bill passes.”
Gierau was one of the 12 senators who voted against the bill, joining Sens. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie, Drew Perkins, R-Casper, and Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.
But senators agreed with arguments such as the one expressed during a committee meeting by bill sponsor Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, that the bill will discourage voters from changing parties to vote for the weaker candidate in a primary.
“It’s just to prevent people from gaming the system,” he said.
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.
Senators voting for the bill in its final Senate reading include Sens. Anthony Bouchard and Tara Nethercott, both R-Cheyenne, Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower and Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton.