NEWCASTLE — The Wyoming Democratic Party is starting to narrow its focus on the 2024 presidential election, voting at its central committee meeting in Newcastle on Saturday to go 100% with mail-in ballots for its presidential preference caucuses next spring.
It will be the second consecutive presidential election cycle that the Democrats have used this voting method in Wyoming, as they completely relied on mail-in ballots during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.
The Democrats also will use ranked choice voting on their ballots, an electoral system where voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots.
The biggest reason the Democrats want to stick with ranked-choice, mail-in ballots is to draw a larger voter turnout. There was a record number of voters that used mail-in ballots nationally during the 2020 presidential election, contributing to the highest ever voter turnout in a presidential election.
What is at stake in each caucus is a certain number of delegates. These are the people who represent their states at national party conventions. The candidate who receives a majority of the party’s delegates wins their state’s nomination.
Each party also has some unpledged delegates or superdelegates who are not bound to a specific candidate heading into the national convention.
In 2020, President Joe Biden won Wyoming’s Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton won the support of the state’s Democratic voters in 2016.
Easier To Participate
Party Chairman Joe Barbuto said doing a mail-in election in 2020 resulted in the highest participation the party has had for a presidential caucus in its history with around 40% of the state’s registered Democrats voting, as opposed to the less than 20% in past years.
“We still think for just the participation rate alone,” he said. “Even though there’s going to be only one top tier candidate, we still believe that doing that via a mail-in ballot would make most sense.”
Erin O’Doherty, data collector for the Wyoming Democratic Party, said Biden received more votes in the 2020 Wyoming caucus election than Clinton and Bernie Sanders combined in 2016. She also said out of 40,000 ballots cast, 37 came back spoiled.
Crook County Democratic Party Chairman Randy Leinen said the state party needs to make sure it runs the mail-in election perfectly or it will be “attacked” with lawsuits from the Republican Party. Leinen said his state representative, Republican Chip Neiman of Hulett, would lead this charge.
“If you’re doing it in Wyoming where there’s so few Democrats compared to Republicans, they’ll come after us,” he said.
Barbuto said he has no concerns that the party can run it successfully.
He said the flexibility mail-in voting offers many more people is an opportunity to participate as opposed to a caucus held through a single day event.
“What we learned before was our caucuses are very limited to people that can take the day off,” O’Doherty said, mentioning how people with disabilities and those serving in the military out of state often can’t participate in a traditional caucus.
Barbuto considers the Wyoming Democratic Party one of the nation’s leaders in mail-in voting, mentioning how only a few other states do 100% mail-in for their presidential caucuses.
“This will just help us to cement that status,” he said.
What About The Republicans?
Many Republicans like former President Donald Trump have opposed mail-in voting except in very limited circumstances, seeing it as a vehicle for voter fraud.
Although the Wyoming Republican Party hasn’t officially finalized its presidential delegate selection process, leading officials in the party have told Cowboy State Daily there are no plans to pursue a different voting process. The Republican Party hosts traditional caucuses in each county over a roughly monthlong period to select its presidential preferences.
Wyoming’s primary election will happen after the Republican National Convention, where the final candidate for presidential nomination is traditionally selected.
How Will It Work?
The Democratic Party will send a mail-in ballot to every registered Democrat in the state. To participate, Democrats will have to be registered by a certain date and send their secret ballots back in spring 2024.
When all the state’s county Democratic parties hold their conventions on April 14, 2024, they will use their individual county’s presidential preferences to select delegates to the state convention.
O’Doherty said it will cost about $4 for each ballot, so the party will only commit to doing the mail-in voting as long as it can acquire outside funding to pay for it. She said there are now about 22,000 registered Democrats in Wyoming.
“If we had $80,000 laying around, we would use it for two more field organizers,” she said.
Who Will They Pick?
Although Biden is most likely to get the state Democratic party’s nomination as the sitting president, Klaus Halbsgut, Albany County Democratic Party Committeeman, said there could be an opening for other Democratic candidates if Trump starts losing his favorability among Republican voters.
He cited a recent CNN poll showing 67% of Democrats say the party should nominate someone other than Biden.
Halbsgut said he could see some other Democratic candidates like California Gov. Gavin Newsome emerging if Trump’s ongoing legal troubles start weighing down his popularity rating. That has yet to happen, as the former president’s popularity has continued to surge in polls despite being hit with new lawsuits and criminal charges.
Halbsgut said he believes Biden would beat Trump in a rematch of the 2020 election but has concerns if the president has to go up against another Republican candidate.
Wyoming will be one of the least relevant states to Biden’s chances of getting elected in the general election, as it voted for Trump by a larger margin than any other in 2020.
But Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, told Cowboy State Daily on Saturday that people in rural America are slowly coming around to Biden because of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that brought $550 billion in new investments to the country.
The Democratic Party has been slowly losing support in rural America over the last few decades, but Martin said this legislation showed rural residents that Democrats do care about them.
“People are starting to feel all the benefits of Bidenomics,” he said. “In some ways, people in red states have been voting against their own self-interest.”
What Happened In 2016?
State Rep. Ken Chestek, D-Laramie, said the party had some issues during its 2016 presidential selection of Clinton. After initial voting, Sanders came out on top with the most delegate votes. But after some automatic delegates were brought into the fold, the two ended up in a tie.
Because of some rounding procedures, Clinton won the tiebreaker for the election, which drew some frustration from Sanders supporters at the time.
“That got very controversial and it was very difficult to work through those issues,” Chestek said.
Chestek said that better rounding techniques have helped resolve these issues, which were alleviated by the 2020 election. Barbuto said the DNC has conditionally approved their presidential selection plan.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.