Whether political parties should be considered publicly regulated entities or private groups that make their own rules has been debated within the Wyoming Republican Party in recent years.
That debate is about to intensify with a new bill proposed by a senior state lawmaker.
State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, co-chairman of the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, has sponsored a bill for the 2024 legislative session that would bring the state’s major political parties farther into the public domain.
Titled “Major Political Parties-State Central Party Voting Members”, the bill would make voting representation for county-level members attending state central committee meetings for the major parties based on the number of the party’s registered voters in the last election.
In short, Senate File 29 would give higher-populated counties like Natrona and Laramie more representation and power in state party affairs than less populated counties like Lincoln and Weston.
The state’s Republican and Democratic parties are the only two considered major political parties in the state. Minor political parties follow different rules and generally much less scrutiny under state law.
Now at Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee meetings, each of the state’s 23 counties get three votes total from a state committeeman, committeewoman and the chairman of their local parties. What that system does is allow for Niobrara County, a county with 2,438 people according to recent Census data, to get the same number of votes and influence in state party matters as Laramie County, which has a population roughly 41 times larger at 100,863 people.
“I think that is a situation is un-Democratic, is unfair, it leads to outcomes not reflective of the majority of Republicans and Democrats, depending on the party that make up that party,” Case said. “You have to think about the relative size of the populations in the counties, you just have to.”
How Would It Work?
The bill would determine the number of voting members a county party would get based on the number of registered voters that party had at the last congressional election in proportion to the total number of statewide registered voters for the party. The bill would not apply to state political party conventions, which do take population into account for delegate counts.
The state central committee is the decision-making authority for political parties between conventions. It is this group that typically nominates candidates to fill vacancies in statewide office roles.
“Which is very powerful too, yet doesn’t follow any kind of Democratic principle of one person, one vote,” Case said.
Case said his bill would establish more fairness and better represent the wishes of the grassroots of the parties, a demographic frequently referred to during Wyoming GOP meetings.
“On policy questions and fulfilling mandates on being a political party, it seems like you should account for the size of your grassroots,” Case said.
The Wyoming Democratic Party operates on a similar system, except it also allows its county vice chairs to vote, giving each county an equal number of four votes.
Park County GOP Committeeman Vince Vanata opposes Case’s bill because he believes political parties are private entities in Wyoming and as such, their members should be given equal power.
“Major political parties are not representative government entities,” Vanata said.
Although voting for party precinct members is done during the state’s primary elections, voting for the committeemen, committeewomen and party chairmen roles happens during county party meetings.
The state’s three most populated counties, Laramie, Campbell and Natrona, make up nearly half of the population, which is why Case believes the current system is unfair and why counties like these should receive more representation than other counties.
“It results in kind of perverse thinking,” he said of the current system. “There’s lots of times I suppose we’re all on the same page, but often times your smaller rural counties may have a different viewpoint overall than more urbanized counties.”
He believes if legislators from higher population counties vote in the interest of their constituents on the bill, it should have a serious chance of passing.
The less-populated counties tend to be more conservative than the larger ones, which is why Vanata believes Case crafted his bill.
“We have a state legislator who I believe is exhibiting sour grapes,” Vanata said. “He’s trying to put more control in the hands of major parties under major populace counties.”
Case, the second-longest serving member in the Wyoming Legislature, has become a recent target for some Republicans recently for his voting record and claims that he has acted against the party. In 2022, the Wyoming GOP issued a censure against him.
Case opposes bills that would criminalize abortion and voted in favor of Medicaid expansion, two measures that don’t align with the party’s platforms.
Vanata believes if SF 29 were to become law, it would make it pointless for county parties with smaller populations to participate in state central committee meetings.
“It’s going to gag counties like Niobrara,” Vanata said. “If this were to pass, why would they show up?”
He also mentioned how crossover voting, the concept of people changing party affiliation to influence another party’s primary election, could unfairly impact party apportionments.
Wyoming is relatively unique in the way its political party voting takes place as many other states implement population-based or other voting procedures.
One Person, One Vote
The Wyoming and United States constitutions stipulate under the Equal Protection Clause that people are to be represented in electoral districts apportioned by population, which connects to the number of state legislators provided to each district, Congress members allotted per state and the use of the electoral college for presidential elections.
Case said his bill is “as simple as it gets.”
“It’s the government structure of political representation and it doesn’t follow one person, one vote like all our other representation structures do,” Case said. “The idea is to make sure everyone has equal representation. Not give someone from a small county 50 times the representation as someone from a very large county.”
Vanata said all of this is moot because the constitutions do not stipulate these requirements as pertaining to political parties, which he views as fully private entities.
“It appears Cale Case is trying to use the Equal Protection Clause, which is applicable to state representative entities such as the legislature and congressional districts and apply it to major political parties in Wyoming,” he said.
The topic of “one person, one vote” has been so contentious that it drew a lawsuit in response to the way the party nominated its three candidates to replace former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow in early 2022.
The federal lawsuit filed by 16 Wyoming residents, including several former legislators, alleged the selection process to pick nominees for the state superintendent of public instruction’s office by the Wyoming GOP failed to properly weight votes based on county population, reducing the influence of counties with larger populations and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions.
The lawsuit was quickly rejected in court.
Case said he didn’t consider this lawsuit when drafting his bill. He said the representation system used by the state’s political parties has always bothered him.
The Wyoming Supreme Court also veered into the public vs. private debate earlier this year when it ruled in a Uinta County GOP lawsuit that political parties cannot craft bylaws that violate state law.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.