Back From The Dead: Wyoming Senate Resurrects Effort To Stop Crossover Voting

A bill that would make it illegal for voters to change party affiliation after candidates announce theyre running for office had been killed by the Wyoming Legislature. But the state Senate revived it Tuesday.

Leo Wolfson

February 15, 20238 min read

Crossover debate Larry Hicks 3 2 14 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Just when it seemed crossover voting would continue for Wyoming primary elections, the state Senate brought back a bill eliminating the practice after it has previously been defeated in a committee.

Crossover voting is the process of changing one’s party affiliation to vote in a different party’s political primary.   

State Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, brought the motion to withdraw House Bill 103 from the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, which on Feb. 9 spiked the bill. 

Using Senate Rule 5-5, Hicks was able to bring a floor vote to reassign the bill to a new committee after the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee had already voted it down. There was a separate vote to approve which committee would receive the bill. 

HB 103 sets the deadline to change party affiliation to the day prior to the campaign filing deadline opening.  

Crossover voting has been a major concern for certain conservatives in recent years, many claiming that the practice dilutes Republican Party primaries with input from Independent and Democratic voters.  

One of the biggest proponents of HB 103 is Secretary of State Chuck Gray, who oversees the state’s elections.

Sen Cale Case said the state Senate’s “whole purpose shouldn’t be about making sure one party is in power or the minority of one party is in power.” (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Hicks: It’s What Republicans Want

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, is chairman for the Senate Corporations Committee, which voted 3-1 against HB 103. 

“The whole purpose shouldn’t be about making sure one party is in power or the minority of one party is in power,” Case told Cowboy State Daily. “It should be about making a more Democratic government.” 

Hicks told Cowboy State Daily he wasn’t pressured by any third party to bring his motion, but rather was listening to the wishes of his Republican Party as a whole.

“I’m the majority floor leader,” Hicks said. “My job is to make sure the majority party’s bills get heard. The majority of Republican voters wanted this bill to get heard.” 

HB 103 passed the House with a supermajority 51-9 vote before running into trouble in the Senate Corporations Committee, of which every member is Republican. 

Hicks said he knew the bill was in trouble the moment it was referred to the Senate Corporations Committee. He said there was no plan at play to make the motions to revive it Tuesday. He was simply acting for his party, which he believes was proven in the two separate majority votes made in the Senate to bring the bill back and refer it to a new committee. 

“That committee failed the bill,” Hicks said. “I just followed the process designed through the rules and procedures.” 

Hicks Motions 

Hicks made a motion to have HB 103 withdrawn and re-referred to the Senate Revenue Committee.  

The Senate Revenue Committee is a five-member panel, and four of its five members are some of the most conservative members of the Wyoming Senate.

Case opposed the withdrawal and re-referral.  

“I think the crossover bill is a terrible bill,” Case said, “and I really think it takes away people’s rights that are important rights.”  

Hicks said HB 103 could have been re-referred to almost any committee, but he chose Revenue because its members have the most experience with crossover voting bills. They also have been some of the most supportive of proposals brought this session for election reform. 

Senate Revenue Chair Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, sponsored his own crossover voting bill this session and in 2022, in addition to co-sponsoring HB 103. Two other members of the committee co-sponsored crossover voting bills in 2022. 

“I felt it was the appropriate committee given the experience and historical knowledge they have working on the issue for a long time,” Hicks said. “No. 1, they’re familiar, No. 2, the chair of the committee sponsored a bill on it in the past.” 

Sen. Tara Nethercott argued unsuccessfully against the Senate overruling the decision of a committee to not pass a crossover voting bill. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Looking For A ‘Predetermined Outcome’

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, described this as “not the proper committee” for the bill to be assigned to, set up for a “predetermined outcome.”  

“Oh, the fun we can have,” she added.  

Hicks’ motion to overrule the Corporations Committee passed 19-12 vote. A second vote to refer the bill to the Revenue Committee passed 16-14. 

Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, was one of the votes that changed between the two motions. He supported the motion to bring the bill back but opposed moving it to the Revenue Committee. Cooper said he’s neutral on the topic of crossover voting. 

“With a certain group it was the thing to do,” he said, referring to the wing of the Republican Party that supports crossover bills.  

Absent from the second vote was Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. It was Driskill who picked all of the Senate committees before the session, but he voted in favor of reviving HB 103.  

Driskill did not respond to a request for comment.  

How Can This Happen?

It’s not unusual for a challenge to be brought against a committee decision on a bill. Hicks said there were two attempts made in the 2022 session alone.  

The move is legal under Senate Rule 5-5, which states a petition or memorial in the hands of any committee may be recalled from a committee after a reasonable time upon the motion of three senators – in this case Hicks and Sens. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan; Dan Laursen, R-Powell; and Biteman seconded the motion. Approval requires a simple majority.  

What is unusual is for this type of motion to pass. 

Case, the second longest serving member of the Wyoming Legislature, said he has no recollection of it ever happening during his time in the Legislature. 

“About every other year, we see one of these maneuvers come through the upper chamber, the Senate,” Nethercott said. “I reassert the statements I have made in the past. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. We are about to upend the process this body has made.”

‘What’s The Point?’

Nethercott said withdrawing and re-referring the bill would undo work of the Senate president and Corporations Committee and that it sets a dangerous precedence moving forward. 

“Just imagine, with five quick votes we can do that with every bill that we are unsatisfied with,” Nethercott said. “Imagine the time, the chaos and the disruption. 

“What is the point of committees and what is the point of the process if all you’re going to do is upend it?” 

Hicks described Nethercott’s objection as hyperbole. 

“Senator Nethercott was trying to fly the black helicopters and scare people,” Hicks said. 

Hicks pointed out that Rule 5-5 motions usually die because the bills being fought for typically don’t have the support of the body as a whole.

With the Senate already supportive of re-considering the bill, it may be likely that it has a high chance of passing if it reaches the floor. 

Case said there will likely be attempts to add amendments to the bill to reduce the length of time before an election that a voter can change party affiliation.  

“That would be better. This one is actually egregious because it’s before the candidates even file,” he said. “By restricting your ability to assemble within a party, or unassemble, I think it fails the Constitutional test.” 

A motion to this effect was made when the bill was considered in the House Corporations Committee. That would have reduced the deadline to change party affiliation to 45 days before a primary election. The amendment was stripped from the bill when it reached the House floor. 

Could Governor Veto?

If House Bill 103 passes the Senate and receives concurrence in the House, all that will remain is Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature. 

Hicks believes Gordon will support it if it receives a supermajority vote of support in each body. The House has already given that level of support, but the Senate has yet to do so. 

A potential Gordon veto could be overruled by a two-thirds vote from both the House and Senate. 

“Usually, you don’t veto bills that have a two-thirds majority in both houses,” Hicks said. “Nobody likes to lose.” 

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter