Former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney now may just be layperson Cheney, but she continues to impact how Wyoming does elections, as two pieces of legislation inspired by her campaign and effect on last year’s Republican Primary passed the Legislature in its 2023 session.
The bill with the most direct connection to Cheney was Senate File 131, which bill sponsor state Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, said was a response to a mailer Cheney sent out during her campaign last summer offering voters unsolicited absentee ballot request forms.
SF 131 prohibits anyone besides a county clerk or secretary of state from distributing official absentee ballot request forms.
Cheney used the tactic during her 2022 Republican primary campaign, which was legal at the time. Still, former Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan told Cowboy State Daily he cautioned the Cheney campaign at the time against using “official election” language on campaign literature.
One Cheney mailer included request forms for absentee ballots with “OFFICIAL ELECTION DOCUMENT ENCLOSED” emblazoned across them and pre-addressed to return to the voters’ respective county clerks.
The forms were sent in envelopes that read “OPEN IMMEDIATELY!” and “Wyoming Absentee Ballot Request Form Enclosed.”
“This was identified as an issue during the 2022 campaign when the Cheney campaign sent out predatory, unsolicited absentee ballot request forms using official election language in a mass mailer campaign during the 2022 election,” Secretary of State Chuck Gray told Cowboy State Daily. “The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office received numerous complaints from Wyomingites about this issue.”
Not Without Concerns
There were concerns brought up during committee discussions on the bill that it might prevent third parties from sending out a link to online absentee ballot request forms offered by a county or the state.
Rep. Martha Lawley, R-Worland, a retired attorney, told Cowboy State Daily if this is the way the law is interpreted, it could be unconstitutional. Lawley still voted to support the bill, along with 53 of her state House colleagues.
Hutchings said she has no issue with third parties encouraging people to vote but wants all official voting documents to be solely disbursed by election officials.
“When we do stuff in mass, there’s just a chance or a possibility for things to go wrong,” she said Feb. 15.
SF 131 on Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk for consideration.
House Bill 103
Another bill with a Cheney connection is House Bill 103, which moves the deadline to change party affiliation from primary election day to the day before candidates can file for political office in Wyoming.
The idea behind this bill is to prevent voters from changing party affiliation to influence the primary election of a different party, a practice known as crossover voting.
Cheney sent out literature in June 2022 instructing Wyoming Democrats and unaffiliated voters how they could change their party registration to vote for her. Instructions for how to complete this process also were on her campaign website, directing voters to fill out a registration form and submit it to their county clerk’s office at least two weeks before the primary.
Joe Barbuto, chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party, told Cowboy State Daily around that time that although he had heard of many Democrats receiving the flier, he hadn’t heard of a single Republican receiving one.
Many conservatives in Wyoming predicted that Cheney would be assisted by crossover voters in her reelection bid last year, citing Gordon’s 2018 Republican gubernatorial election, where some accused him of benefiting from crossover voting.
“While crossover voting has gained more attention in the last year, it has been a longstanding problem with the integrity of Wyoming’s elections,” Gray said. “Allowing registered voters to disingenuously affiliate with a party they don’t believe in to skew the results of those elections has affected races ranging from statewide office all the way down to elections for precinct committee people.”
Many Crossovers, Little Impact
Although there was a definite presence of crossover voters in the August 2022 primary, it wasn’t nearly enough to help Cheney, who lost to U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman by 38% of the vote.
This was the fifth straight legislative session with bills targeting crossover voting, with HB 103 the first successful one.
The topic has brought so much attention that former President Donald Trump weighed in on the matter and backed a crossover bill in last year’s legislative session. Even Trump’s endorsement wasn’t enough then to help that bill pass into law.
Opponents of HB 103 said it’s unconstitutional and infringes on voters’ right to associate with a political party. Others have said the way the legislation is written raises questions about whether new voters would be allowed to affiliate with a political party after the start of the lockout period.
The Wyoming County Clerks Association has said it believes this is not the case, but Gordon said the sponsor of the bill has vowed to work on cleaning up its language with another bill in the 2024 legislative session that guarantees voting privileges for new voters.
Gordon let HB 103 pass into law without his signature last week.
Cowboy State Daily reached out to Cheney for reaction about her impact on election legislation, but a representative for the former congresswoman declined to comment.