Wyoming Clerk Says Gray's Office Doing Little To Promote Crossover Voting Change

For the first time this year, Wyoming primary voters can’t crossover vote. They have to decide party affiliation months earlier, by May 15. But a county clerk says Chuck Gray’s office is doing little to let people know about the change.

Leo Wolfson

March 19, 20248 min read

Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray
Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Many Wyoming voters may still not know about an important change to a primary election registration deadline that’s less than two months away.

Wyoming lawmakers last year passed a law establishing a much earlier deadline to change party affiliation to vote in the state’s primary election. Previously, voters could change party affiliation as late as day of the primary in August, a practice called crossover voting.

Now, that deadline is the day before the official candidate filing period opens three months earlier on May 15.

A few Wyoming county clerks and voter advocacy groups say they’re planning a blitz to get the word out about the much earlier voter registration deadline this spring. They also question why Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray and his office aren’t being more vocal about publicizing the change, especially since Gray was one of the loudest voices calling to put an end to crossover voting during last year’s legislative session.

“A lot of people are going to show up mad when they try to vote in August,” said Marguerite Herman, a representative for the League of Women Voters of Wyoming. “We’re going to try and preempt a lot of that.”

A spokesperson for Gray was non-committal about how and when the office will start publicizing the change. Gray strongly advocated for getting rid of crossover voting and changing the deadline, and was heavily involved in the legislative process to make it happen in 2023.

“As the Secretary of State’s office prepares for the 2024 election cycle, the office plans on engaging in a voter awareness and education campaign similar in size and scope to the practice of previous administrations,” said Joe Rubino, a spokesperson for the office.

Rubino did not immediately respond to a follow up question about when the office plans to start the informational campaigns to get the word out to Wyoming voters.

Why the party affiliation change matters so much in Wyoming is because most of the state’s races are decided in the August primary because of an overwhelming Republican majority in the state. Typically, there are few items for unaffiliated voters to decide on in primary elections in Wyoming besides some city council races.

If a voter is registered as a Republican and wants to switch affiliation, they must do so by May 15, even though the primary election isn’t until Aug. 20. Voters who are registered but unaffiliated with a party also will be impacted by the change.

People who aren’t registered to vote at all or voters who don’t wish to change party affiliation won’t be affected.

Those who did not vote in the most recent general election, moved to another county or changed their name need to register to vote again.

Crossover Crossroads

Crossover voting is changing party affiliation to impact another party’s primary election.

There’s been a belief espoused by many Wyoming conservatives, Wyoming Republican Party leadership and Gray that Democrats have been crossing over to influence Republican Party primaries, most specifically seen in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial race won by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Although many expressed fears crossover voting would unfairly impact the 2022 U.S. House race between former congresswoman Liz Cheney and U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman, whatever Democrat presence there was in that race had no impact on the final result, which Hageman won by a landslide.

By closing the party affiliation change deadline prior to the candidate filing period opening, the idea is that it will stop people from registering for a particular party solely based on the candidates running for office.

State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, chairman of the Senate, Corporations, Elections and Subdivisions Committee, doesn’t expect the party affiliation change to result in different election outcomes and said it may even cause some people who in the past may have switched between parties election-to-election to just stay put as Republicans, especially when considering the lack of Democratic primary races in Wyoming.

“If folks want to infiltrate the Republican Party, the name of the game will be to stay Republican all the time,” Case said. “That’s the more likely outcome.”

Is It Being Hidden?

There is no information provided about the change on either the Secretary of State’s home page or main elections section of its website. To find a reference to the change, a user must either click on the election calendar to see the now-current deadline for party changes, or go to the “FAQs” section of elections, and then click on the “Register to Vote” tab.

To change or declare a new party affiliation for the primary election, voters must complete a voter registration application and change form and submit it to their county clerk's office no later than May 15, the day before the candidate filing period begins.

Another change made during the 2023 legislative session says absentee ballots can only be sent out 28 days before an election for most voters, reduced from the prior 45-day timeline.

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese said she was told by the Secretary of State’s office it will start actively putting out information about the changes in May.

“Which I think will be too late,” Freese said.

Marissa Carpio, a representative for the Equality State Policy Center, said the organization finds the lack of information put out by the Secretary of State’s office concerning.

“We're less than two months away from the deadline to change party affiliation, and there's been a glaring absence of state-sanctioned voter education on this crucial change,” Carpio said. “Wyoming folks work hard and deserve to understand how to participate meaningfully and freely in our electoral system.”

Sheridan resident Gail Symons, a political activist for her organization Civics 307, was more blunt.

“The desired outcome is to shut people out,” she said.

Symons said if there is fraud in Wyoming elections, which she doesn’t believe to be the case, one of the ways this could be combated would be to get a higher voter turnout to dilute the fraudulent votes.

Another effort Gray supported to establish a 30-day residency requirement to vote in Wyoming failed during the recent 2024 legislative session.

There’s also been no update on a proposed change Gray made to the voter identification rules in late 2023 to require a proof of address in order to register to vote in addition to other forms of personal identification.

What They’re Doing

The Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) and the League of Women Voters have hired a third-party firm to help put out information to voters around the state this spring on the party affiliation change.

“Since the clerks don’t have the funding to do it, we’re trying to avoid disenfranchising people,” Herman said. “People should know somethings afoot.”

But on Sunday, the Laramie County clerk’s office will host its first voter registration pop-up event from 1-5 p.m. at the Laramie County Library. Staff from the clerk’s office will register new voters, update registrations for those who have moved, update party affiliations, request absentee ballots or have questions about the upcoming elections.

Freese also plans to send notification cards to voters in her county about the party affiliation and absentee ballot changes but said there is no concerted effort being organized by clerks around the state as a whole. She said many clerks will depend on the ESPC and League of Women Voters’ marketing efforts as well as their local media to get the word out.

The biennial budget passed by the House in this year's legislative session included $95,000 for the 23 county clerks around the state to educate the public about election information.

Although the crossover voting change was publicized in the news when made last year, it hasn’t been brought up much in 2024. Further, less-politically engaged voters or people who don’t follow the news much may still be unaware of the change.

Mary Lankford, a former county clerk and representative for the Wyoming County Clerks Association, said the only tangible result of the party affiliation change will be frustrated voters who have historically waited until election day when they vote to declare their party affiliation.

“I think what’s going to happen is they’re not going to get to vote, which is the saddest story of all,” she said.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

Share this article



Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter