DOUGLAS — Secretary of State Chuck Gray wants to lock in Wyoming voter registrations and party affiliations before candidates can start filing to run for election.
Gray’s proposal, presented as an amendment to a draft bill being considered by the Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee at its meeting here Thursday, would prevent voters from canceling their registrations or changing party affiliation to unaffiliated after candidates can officially start filing for public office in mid-May.
While some expressed concern over the amendment, Gray said its intent is to alleviate concern that a law passed during the 2023 legislative session prevents new voters from registering and affiliating with a political party.
That law, House Enrolled Act 70, is designed to keep people from a practice known as crossover voting, where people change party affiliation at a primary election to vote and influence the outcome of an opposing party’s primary.
But Gray said this new proposed draft bill “totally obliterates” a part of the new law that had prevented voters from canceling their voter registrations and then later re-registering to vote.
He provided an amendment to the committee that would aim to close what he described as the “cancellation loophole,” which would prevent voters from making any changes to their voting status.
The committee said it wants more time to consider Gray’s amendment and pushed the bill to their next meeting.
Right To Divorce
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, co-chair of the committee, said people have the right to divorce from any commitment and expressed concern Gray’s amendment would be in the way of someone who moves from Wyoming from unregistering so they can vote in their new state of residency. Gray confirmed the proposed change would do that.
“You have that First Amendment right to disassociate,” Case said. “Freedom of religion contains freedom from religion. I absolutely believe it’s infringing on the First Amendment. In this particular case, it’s simply unnecessary.”
The draft bill came out of concerns, some of raised by staff from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office and Attorney General Bridget Hill, that HEA 70 prevents new or first-time voters from voting in elections.
Or, Do Nothing
Gray has consistently said the new law does not do this, a point he hammered home Thursday.
He also said he believes that, “This legislation on its face would not be needed.”
Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said Gray’s opposition to the bill gave him hesitation to move forward with it Thursday.
“I’m a little reluctant on this amendment because I was told earlier today the secretary of state would prefer to not do anything,” Landen said. “A lot of noise out there (is) that this group shouldn’t do anything with the law that was passed. It’s new enough, I don’t think the public has even seen this really.”
Gray and some members of the committee also suggested that Gray’s staff could simply make in-house rule changes rather than passing a new law, and Gray said he would prefer to simply provide his own guidance on the matter.
Marvin Ervin, president of the Wyoming County Clerks Association, said his organization supports both the new legislation and Gray’s amendment.
“I think the amended language is good,” Ervin said. “The current 23 county clerks — that’s how they understand the intent of the bill. To make that clear to the next 23 county clerks, that (law) could use some clarification.”
A few members of the committee said they received significant public feedback about the proposed bill who said they saw it as an attack on preventing crossover voting.
Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said many shared the same viewpoints as Gray and were pretty “lathered up” about the legislation.
Around 10 members of the public spoke in agreement with Gray on Thursday, many delving into the merits of prohibiting crossover voting rather than the proposed bill.
Landen said the Wyoming Republican Party sent out a few emails about it, urging party members to oppose the draft legislation and speak against it at Thursday’s meeting.
The issue likely came on the party’s radar after a speech Gray gave to the Wyoming Republican Party earlier this month where he drew attention to the situation and made the comment that “the empire always strikes back.”
Landen brought an amendment to HEA 70 during the 2023 legislative session that would have had the same effect as the draft bill. This amendment originally passed on the bill’s first reading in the Senate, but then was taken out after Gray said it wasn’t necessary.
Landen told Cowboy State Daily he finds it “ironic” that the state GOP is concerned about any changes being made to the bill.
“Our party, the one I belong to, is very concerned about any amendments and changes being brought,” he said.
One loophole that still remains in state law is that when people don’t vote in a general election in Wyoming, they are automatically removed from the state’s voter rolls. They then are considered new voters and can re-register whenever they like for the next election they vote in.
Until Next Time
The committee decided to continue its discussion on the proposed bill and Gray’s amendment at its next meeting in October. Gray said he and his staff will study the issue and try to find solutions by then.
Case stressed to Gray and the public that there is no intention to subvert or reverse HEA 70, even though he opposed it himself.
“Everybody knows I disagree with it. That’s not what we’re fighting today,” Case said. “We need to allow them that First Amendment right. We could lose on that point.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.