The "62-31" redistricting bill sponsored by the Legislature's Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee will add three lawmakers to Wyoming’s Legislature. (Screenshot/LSO)

With only a couple of days standing between lawmakers and Wyoming’s 2022 budget session, the Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee settled on a redistricting bill Friday. 

Also known as the 62-31 plan, the bill adds two House districts and one Senate district. The committee tabled a back-up plan that it had previously sponsored; that plan did not add more districts. 

The 62-31 plan is the end result of a drawn-out, sometimes contentious process. The committee’s longest-standing member, Sen. Charlie Scott (R-Casper), told WyoFile it has not historically come down to the wire. 

Redistricting is required by lawmakers every 10 years following a census. The idea is to refresh voting district lines to accurately reflect any population changes. 

Urban-rural tensions have run high at times as lawmakers proposed new district lines that have runoff election implications for some. In addition, advocates for one of the state’s fastest-growing areas claim some lawmakers’ desires to protect their own seats, instead of giving voters fair representation, have driven much of the deliberations. 

Those dynamics are likely to continue as the eleventh-hour bill is put to the full Legislature. Lawmakers must approve a new map during the session and by March 4.

South Cheyenne

The redistricting process follows the 2020 census, which revealed population shifts across the state. Laramie and Teton counties tied at 9.6% for the highest population gains over the previous decade, while Sublette County had the biggest population decline at 14.8%. And growth in places like Laramie County is a reason for more representation, according to advocates like Antonio Serrano with the ACLU of Wyoming. 

“When redistricting is conducted properly, district lines are redrawn to reflect population changes and racial diversity,” Serrano said in a press release ahead of a January redistricting meeting. His group was in opposition of a plan, known as the I-80 compromise, that the ACLU claimed did not “adequately represent communities of interest, like the south side of Cheyenne, a working-class neighborhood and the most diverse part of the city.” 

The I-80 compromise would have split the Latino population into four separate districts, thereby diluting its voting powers.       

Along with Serrano, Carla Gregorio, vice president of the Wyoming Independent Citizens Coalition, advocated for the 62-31 bill. For Gregorio, that included testifying to the legislature for the first time. Despite feeling nervous, it was important to come out and support it, Gregorio said, since it would split south Cheyenne’s large Hispanic population into two districts instead of four. 

Carla Gregorio testifies in favor of the 62-31 redistricting map during the Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee meeting on Jan. 27, 2022. (Screenshot/Wyoming Legislature)

For 26 years, Gregorio was an elementary school principal in south Cheyenne. She described her school as “the poorest in town” and said the city has long neglected the area and its diverse population. That’s another reason Gregario wants to see the 62-31 plan succeed — she thinks different representation at the state level will secure resources the constituents don’t currently have, like Medicaid. 

“We have blue-collar workers and … they just don’t have adequate health insurance,” Gregorio said. 

El Cameron grew up in south Cheyenne and has also been involved with advocating for her childhood neighborhood. She has since moved to the west side of town, but still feels strongly in favor of the 62-31 plan. 

Plus, she’s been concerned about the way the process has played out. 

“Those legislators are more concerned in holding onto their seat than really making sure that the people are getting represented,” Cameron said. 

Runoffs and backups  

When the committee met Friday, it was members’ last chance to agree on one map to bring into the session. Lawmakers spent the morning adding amendments to iron details, particularly for Goshen, Laramie and Platte counties. In the afternoon, concerns similar to Cameron’s were raised during the public comment. 

“One of the first things I heard when this committee started last August was, ‘we’re not going to pay any attention to where current legislators live. And for the last half hour, you have sat here trying to figure out where legislators live,’” said Jack Mueller of Cheyenne. 

The committee had been discussing a part of the map involving Laramie County, where they had not been able to separate two incumbent House members — Rep. Jim Blackburn (R-Cheyenne) and Rep. Clarence Styvar (R-Cheyenne). If the 62-31 map becomes law, the two lawmakers will be forced into a runoff election, unless they plan to retire. 

Right now this is the only runoff scenario contained in the proposed bill, according to the LSO. 

In response to Mueller, Rep. Mike Yin (D-Teton) said if the public doesn’t want the Legislature in charge of redistricting, an alternative process exists — an independent redistricting commission. Rep. Jim Roscoe (I-Wilson) suggested lawmakers study the option as a potential interim topic. The Equality State Policy Center, a non-profit dedicated to government transparency and accountability, has voiced support for such a method.

“There is not a perfect solution to redistricting, but we can definitely improve on the process that has taken place during the last six months,” Jenn Lowe, executive director of the ESPC, told WyoFile in an email. “Wyoming can, and should, do better.” 

Before the vote on the bill, there was only one other public comment, this one from Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs). He asked Co-chairman Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne), “where do you live?”

The question was in reference to allegations that Zwonitzer lives outside his district.

Co-chairman Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) told the senator it was “not the appropriate place” and the matter was in the hands of House Speaker Eric Barlow (R-Gillette). 

The bill passed on a vote of 11-3, with Scott, Blackburn and Rep. Aaron Clausen (R-Douglas) opposed. Shortly after, the committee voted to table Scott’s back-up plan that did not add additional lawmakers. 

Like budget bills, legislation related to redistricting will also automatically be heard by the legislature and won’t need to clear the two-thirds introductory vote hurdle. The proposed bill is likely to be amended as it moves through the legislative process.

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. While an independent commission usually does the best job actually putting in place voting districts for any level (state or national) as they are looking at “similar populations” and not watering down any one group or preserving anyone’s seat – we’ve also see time and time again in states across the country – that state legislatures ignore these commissions and go back to business as usual.

  2. Unbelievable. All the Republicans advocating for less government and the solution is three more legislators. If anything Wyoming should be moving to a unicameral legislator. We have the smallest population of any state in the country.

  3. My thoughts on this,Jim H, moved his presence lines around every election, almost lost when he move the line up to Converse, People move to an area, that they like the people and the Politicians in that area, what your trying to do here is move the lines, in the sand, to discriminate again, the Mexican population, well they live there because they are in there own inviorment,

  4. I don’t understand this district system. As I think I remember from civics class many years ago each county in Wyoming had two senators and the state house was determined by population similar. I don’t recognize the map at all. It looks to me like they have gerrymandered the lines so that western Wyoming hasn’t got a chance to be represented. It is easy to understand why the larger populated areas of the state get all the benefits. The one district in southwestern Wyoming is made up of people from Uinta, Lincoln and Sublette counties. They have gerrymandered it so fewer and fewer Democrats are involved and all the power goes to Casper, Cheyenne and eastern Wyoming. Am I missing something??? When did it change so population determines senate seats? HELP! Each state in the United States has two senators so that small more rural states have equal power with the populated states. The map is crazy????? When did this change or am I crazy?

  5. I have watched the process and while it was obvious that Tom James was out of line and grandstanding, I really did not understand Jack Mueller’s complaint? It seems pretty clear that where people lived did not really seem to be discussed, but once a final plan was in place or nearly in place, it would only seem prudent to let those legislators know what may happen to their districts? It seemed logical to ask the question so no legislator thought that they would have been purposely gerrymandered out of their seats? I do not understand being angry for what I thought was common courtesy and decency.