Secretary of State Chuck Gray has unveiled a new slate of proposed election ID rules that aim to more clearly define what it takes to register to vote in Wyoming.
The rules include new requirements for residency in that a voter's current address be listed on a form of identification, which must match the address listed on the voter registration application form. If the identification doesn’t establish a voter’s current residency, he or she must supply additional forms of identification to prove their residency.
In short, the rules would for the first time establish two benchmarks to meet as acceptable proof of identity and proof of state residency.
Gray said the rules clarify current law and establish uniformity and clarity for those registering to vote. He sees them as a vehicle to ensure election integrity and provide clear guidelines for “evidence of citizenship” for people registering to vote.
“The proposed revisions are key to fulfilling our obligation of ensuring voters in Wyoming are bona fide residents of Wyoming,” Gray said. “Ensuring that those who register to vote in Wyoming must provide proof of residency is pivotal to election integrity and security for our great state.”
Whether this uniformity and clarity is needed depends on who you talk to. There have been no instances of substantial voter ID fraud documented in Wyoming and very few cases of election fraud prosecuted in the state, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Some Wyoming Republicans have complained in recent years about the federal executive branch enacting rules and executive orders that subvert the legislative process.
Still, some Wyoming conservatives like former state legislator Marti Halverson and Evanston pastor Jonathan Lange support Gray’s rules.
“This is not a problem, but it’s a problem for some people,” said state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.
The Bill And The Rules
Voter residency has been a hallmark issue for Gray, who has actively supported a bill that would enact a 30-day residency requirement to vote in the state. This bill is still active and will be considered during the 2024 legislative session.
Although the state’s county clerks have publicly expressed support for clarifying Wyoming’s voter registration procedures for proof of residency, it has been Gray who has spearheaded the campaign.
The proposed rules are much more stringent in some ways than the proposed legislation because they require more physical proof of residency rather than just a sworn statement of residency of 30 days.
“I think this documentation piece is a little bit hard to do and harder than they think, and cumbersome and suppresses voters,” Case said.
Case, co-chairman of the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, said he hasn’t before seen an agency head submit rules ahead of active legislation that serves the same purpose.
“It’s kind of unusual, to say the least,” he said.
Gray said his rules differ from the legislation in that they deal with documents necessary to vote. But it is within these documents that he has included new requirements to prove residency.
What The Law Says
While Chapter 2 of the Wyoming Secretary of State’s rules provides a process for providing proof of identity for purposes of identification, there is no mechanism, absent a challenge, for a person registering to vote to provide proof of identity to prove he or she is a bona fide resident of Wyoming, as required by Wyoming law.
Gray has expressed concern in the past that someone could travel into Wyoming and take up lodging at a motel, then that same day legally vote in the state. He said the only reason some people oppose his rule changes are because they ensure that only Wyoming residents are voting in elections.
“Now that we are attempting to make sure that illegal aliens and nonresidents will not be able to vote, the radical left has come out in full force,” he said.
Case believes that not only do Gray’s proposed rules cross into lawmaking, but he also believes the changes he wants to make are not eligible to be addressed in rules.
The Wyoming Legislature has granted rulemaking authority to the state’s agencies as a means of interpreting and acting on state law and Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, said on the House floor earlier this year that Gray has the authority to establish voter registration requirements.
Wyoming law requires that a person registering to vote in Wyoming be a “bona fide resident.” The law also charges the secretary of state with specifying by rule adequate proof of identity of a voter, but the section of state law pertaining to “acceptable identification” mentions nothing about specific residency requirements.
“I think it’s tortuous to say that identity also lets you do residency as well,” Case said.
Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, a member of the Corporations Committee, disagrees and believes that although the topic needs more discussion by the Legislature, Gray is acting within his purview to clarify the law.
“He’s offering clear instruction on exactly what the state is asking for, and that direction he is offering is what the clerks had been asking for,” Haroldson said.
The secretary of state’s authority to make rules is limited to efforts to maintain uniform voting and vote counting procedures and orderly voting, emergency directives to county election officers, rules and regulations necessary to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009. Establishing voter ID requirements is not specifically included.
Harder To Vote
Jenn Lowe, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, said Gray’s proposed rules are unnecessary and circumvent the Legislature. She and Case agree the only change they bring about is making it more difficult for legal residents to vote in Wyoming.
Lowe also mentioned how Gray has expressed some doubt about determining criminality in an ongoing investigation of multiple anonymous mailers targeting Crago and Rep. Steve Harsman, R-Casper, earlier this year.
“Yet the issues the secretary is taking his time on are making it harder for people who are trying to exercise their legal right to register and vote,” Lowe said.
Under the proposed rules, homeless people will have to receive written communication on a letterhead from a public or private social service agency verifying they are homeless and attesting to their Wyoming residency for registration purposes.
Case said there are many scenarios where people are in between homes or have recently moved in Wyoming that the new rules do nothing to address. The rules also complicate matters for people who have a post office box listed as their address on their driver’s license.
“It’s kind of getting hard on people, especially our disadvantaged voters,” Case said.
What Happens Next?
The public comment period on the proposed rules will run through Jan. 26, 2024. That day, there will be a 1 p.m. hearing at the Capitol where the public can comment on the proposed rules.
Once the rules are adopted, they will be considered by the Legislature’s Management Council. The Management Council can make a recommendation to the governor about whether he should accept or veto the rules, but nothing more. The council can also propose a bill to counter or nullify the rules, but that would still take approval from the full Legislature to enact into law.
Case doesn’t recall a time during his 29 years in the Legislature where a governor has vetoed proposed rules.
Public comments regarding the rules may be submitted by email via the Rules System by using advanced search for proposed rules and the “Provide Public Comment” link, or by emailing comments directly to Joe.Rubino1@wyo.gov.
Copies of the proposed rules may be obtained on the Wyoming Administrative Rules System by using the advanced search for proposed rules, or by contacting the Secretary of State’s Office at 307-777-7378.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.