NEWCASTLE — Although concerns about crossover voting are most typically brought up in Republican circles in Wyoming, turns out it’s also a concern of the Wyoming Democratic Party, but for vastly different reasons.
During the party’s central committee meeting Saturday at the Newcastle Lodge and Convention Center, some leading Democrats expressed worry that former Democrats who switched party affiliation to vote for former congresswoman Liz Cheney during the 2022 Republican primary won’t switch their registration or party loyalty back to Democrat.
“A lot of Democrats switched to vote for Liz Cheney, and then failed to vote in the general election,” Crook County Democratic Party Chair Randy Leinen said. “We need to reach out to those people to bring them into the fold.”
Wyoming Democratic Party Treasurer Mary Harper said she’s heard from many former Democrats who registered as Republicans in Fremont County to vote for Cheney and are now apathetic about switching back.
“I think that we need to do some education on exactly why they should change back or not,” she said.
The practice of Democrats switching party affiliation to Republican has been an ongoing trend in Wyoming, although debate remains about the reasons for the switch and how extensively it’s happening.
Election data shows that around 10,000 to 20,000 former Democrats changed party affiliation to vote for Cheney in 2022.
During that election season, Democrats only ran in three of the six statewide races and the majority of state legislative races didn’t feature a Democratic candidate. In the races that did, only a few featured a contested Democratic primary.
Johnson County Democratic Party Chair Greg Haas said even in situations where there is a contested Democratic primary race, many say they would support all of the candidates running so they don’t see a need to participate.
Party registration is less critical in general elections, where voters can vote for any candidate they want.
To be considered a major political party in Wyoming, a party must receive 10% of the vote in governor, secretary of state, or House of Representatives general election races that it participates in. Although the Democrats exceeded the 10% barrier by a fairly safe margin in 2022, any further loss of party membership could put the party in a precarious position.
Some expressed concern that former Democrats are apathetic about the state of their party in Wyoming and the chances of their candidates getting elected.
Wyoming Democratic State Party Chair Joe Barbuto said the party needs to be bold with its actions and messaging to combat these feelings.
“Making sure that we’re present in communities so that people know that Democrats are not just existing there in their respective communities, but active and working to show we can accomplish goals,” he said.
Some former Democratic voters view voting for certain Republicans as a pragmatic choice to have at least some of their views represented in office, said Jordan Evans, chairman of the Laramie County Democratic Party.
Rock Springs resident Meghan Jensen, who ran for Congress in 2022, said she knows people who end up voting for candidates they consider to be moderate Republicans and “the lesser of two evils.”
In Wyoming, many of the Republican primary races represent the most contested race of an election with a matchup of two or more candidates sparring to be viewed as most conservative.
“They are not moderates, folks,” Jensen said. “Maybe they’re nice to your face and they will fix your tire for you, and that’s the Wyoming way and that’s lovely. But when they’re voting to take your rights away, that’s why I’m voting for a lot of the people that are here today.”
Leinen touched on this point as well, saying that Democrats have the potential to pick up votes from “disaffected” Republicans.
Laramie County Democratic Party Vice Chair Kelsey Johnson brought up the story of a former supporter of President Donald Trump wanting to get more involved with their party because of efforts to remove certain books from school libraries.
Evans suggested that Democrats also find victories through lobbying efforts on specific topics and hyper local issues in front of school boards and city councils.
“With that we’re getting a win every now or then,” Evans said. “You can be proactive and not just reactive against the things that happen against it. That feels good to people because we’ve lost for so long with not many wins.”
In August, many Democrats turned out for a legislative committee meeting where a bill was considered that would have prohibited the teaching of sexual orientation to students in third grade and younger. The bill was defeated after an hourslong debate featuring many people who offered public testimony from the Democratic Party.
Leinen and Barbuto also recommended people run for local office like city councils that are usually nonpartisan in nature.
“You can run for these local boards and show people that Democrats are good people,” Leinen said.
The urgency is on for Wyoming Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide election since 2006 and have lost or failed to gain seats in the Legislature every election since 2016.
Leinen expressed his view that Republicans will restrict voter rights and business opportunities in Wyoming. In recent years, environmental, social and corporate governance scores have become a hot button topic for many Wyoming conservatives.
“We don’t want Wyoming to be a place where businesses don’t want to go because of our very restrictive social policies,” he said.
A few people told stories at the meeting of intimidation they’ve experienced or felt for making it publicly known that they are Democrats.
After attending a local county fair, Weston County Democratic Chair Deb Piana said when she returned to her car, which had bumper stickers for the State Democratic Party and former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, had been badly keyed.
Hot Springs County Democratic Party Chair Kim Bartlett said Democrats can hold events without concerns of safety if they prepare for it. She mentioned how the Hot Springs Democratic Party held an LGBTQ discussion in June with various health professionals and advocates in attendance. As the event approached, Walker grew increasingly concerned about the safety of the participants.
Cameras were set up at the event and police and prominent members of the community also attended.
Bartlett was proud to report that there were no issues.
“There is no reason to be afraid, this is America and I am as free as my neighbor,” she said.
Evans said the party also needs to be accepting of people who want to support the party but don’t feel comfortable putting themselves out in a public sphere with that association.
“Maybe if people are intimidated to talk about state policy or run as a candidate for state office or do stuff like that, we’re having some success when we’re asking people to write letters together and go talk to city council members,” he said.
In the last year, the Democratic Party established a new slogan, “Here for good,” which Barbuto said is a testament to the party’s dedication to the state.
“We love it here,” Barbuto said. “While we’re staying put, we want to make the state better.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.