DOUGLAS — Lander Republican state Sen. Cale Case believes that making voter intimidation in Wyoming a low-level misdemeanor crime will allow county attorneys around the state to feel more comfortable charging people with it.
“Sometimes when (the penalties for) crimes are overly high, prosecutors will not even begin to go down that because it doesn’t really fit what they think the crime is,” Case said.
Case, who co-chairs the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, on Thursday proposed adding a misdemeanor charge for elector intimidation to give prosecutors more flexibility.
Voter intimidation is now solely a felony charge in Wyoming, carrying up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine for those found guilty of it.
“There are many cases that are unprosecuted because it just doesn’t really fit the circumstance,” Case said.
He mentioned how a low-level misdemeanor charge was added in Wyoming in the past for people who make mistakes while voting.
“It was based on someone being really unintentional,” Case said.
The standard maximum penalty associated with a misdemeanor charge in Wyoming is up to six months in jail and an up to a $750 fine.
Case mentioned testimony given to the committee by Buffalo resident Dana Burns in May, who alleged that she was intimidated by a poll worker and asked why she was wearing a face mask when voting in 2021.
No charges were filed in Johnson County related to the event.
“That’s pretty serious. I don’t know if it’s ever happened before, or if it’s a matter of degree, or how often poll watchers get admonished,” Case said. “I think it’s something we should take seriously.”
Wyoming is the only state in the Rocky Mountain region that charges voter intimidation as a felony-level crime. Wyoming defines intimidation very similarly to other states.
Voter intimidation was a major concern voiced about the 2020 elections, with incidents of people following and harassing voters documented in Arizona.
Beyond the felony charge for voter intimidation, Wyoming laws for poll watchers are actually more lenient than most other states in the region. In a few other states, restrictions prevent candidates, and in some cases their family members, from serving as poll watchers.
Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, co-chair of the committee, described Case’s logic as “an interesting concept.”
“If you think prosecutors are chilled from actually taking any action because it’s a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor, it seems like it would be a pretty easy thing to put in our statutes,” Olsen said.
Case suggested simply adding a misdemeanor level charge as an option without getting rid of felony voter intimidation altogether, keeping the higher charge on the books for “very serious intimidation.”
Case told Cowboy State Daily that the committee will discuss taking up his proposal as sponsored legislation late Friday.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.