Election Judge George Powers sanitizes a voting booth Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, at the Laramie County Community College poll. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

CHEYENNE—For lawmakers aspiring to limit so-called crossover voting by restricting how and when Wyoming voters may affiliate with a political party, the ninth time may be the charm. 

House Bill 103 – Political party affiliation declaration and changes is headed to the governor’s desk after it cleared both chambers. That is further than any of the other eight legislative attempts have gotten. 

Its journey has been bumpy. Like two other anti-crossover voting bills brought this session, the HB 103 originally failed. However, senators applied a rarely used rule to resurrect it

“It’s been probably the most vetted bill this body has ever seen,” Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester) said Friday on the Senate floor. “It’s been shot at. It’s been nuclear-bombed. It’s been fumigated. It’s been thrown in the garbage can. It’s been beaten, dragged, you name it.” 

Biteman has led the Wyoming Republican Party’s charge to put a stop to registered Democrats, minor party and unaffiliated voters from changing their party affiliation in order to participate in the primary election as Republicans. House Bill 103 doesn’t rule that possibility out entirely. Instead it creates a 96-day period ahead of the primary election, forcing voters to affiliate with a party before the nomination period opens for candidates. 

Opponents of the bill argue it inappropriately prioritizes party allegiance and purity over the competition of ideas and individual candidates. But that’s indeed the intent, according to bill supporters like Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne). 

“I’m going to choose a party that is more in alignment with my values,” Hutchings told lawmakers. “I could care less who’s going to run, that shouldn’t even be in my mind [when choosing a party].”

The Senate voted 19-11 with one excused to pass the bill, but not before unease emerged regarding unintended consequences. Some worried the legislation will inadvertently deny new voters the ability to register to vote. Sens. Bill Landen (R-Casper) and Charles Scott (R-Casper) brought amendments to patch that hole, but neither stuck. 

“Our job is to put the best product out that goes in those green books behind me. We’re not doing that on this one,” Landen said. 

The bill has now landed on the desk of the official whose 2018 win set off all the commotion. When Gordon secured the Republican nomination in the governor’s race, his opponents said he only beat them due to the support of crossover Democrats. Those claims were shown to be statistically unfounded but have endured nonetheless. 

Gordon “will give the bill careful consideration, just as he does with all bills that reach his desk,” Michael Pearlman, the governor’s spokesperson, told WyoFile. 

Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester) during the 2023 general session of the 67th Wyoming Legislature. (Megan Lee Johnson/WyoFile)

‘Qualified’ elector

Landen brought what he thought would be a quick fix to the bill, he said, after a constituent reached out to him with an inquiry: If someone turned 18 during the blackout period, would they be able to register to vote ahead of the primary election? 

Not being able to answer the question himself, Landen took it to the legal staff at the Legislative Service Office. 

“Come to find out, we do have a little bit of a problem,” Landen told lawmakers. Legal staff suggested changing the word “elector” to “qualified elector” to clear up the potential problem. That change could specify the bill’s intentions to restrict those who are already registered voters. 

That argument was enough to convince the body to adopt Landen’s amendment, but it didn’t stick. The language was struck the next day at the urging of Biteman. 

“It either does nothing or it does something we don’t want it to,” Biteman said, expressing skepticism about LSO’s legal research. Others, like Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan) said the secretary of state’s office, “the ultimate arbiter,” told him the added language was not needed. 

The County Clerks’ Association of Wyoming, however, took a more nuanced approach. The association has long avoided taking a stance in opposition or support of the bill “given its intensely political nature,” according to a letter the clerks sent the Senate last week. Instead, the association’s testimony on the bill has focused on its administrability, which the clerks say is doable. 

“It is the opinion of our association that the passage [of the bill], as introduced, would not deny a new registrant,” the letter stated. “However, our association has continuously advocated for clear direction and as such, perhaps clarity that the prohibition on affiliating does not apply to new registrants is in order.” 

Scott brought an amendment proposing that kind of clarity.

“Providing clarity where there’s ambiguity is good practice in law,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said. “I cannot fathom why we would not want to inject certainty into a statutory case of ambiguity by supporting this amendment.”

The amendment failed 16-15. The day before, Sen. John Kolb (R-Rock Springs) had said adding language to the bill would put its future in jeopardy, since that would create an additional hurdle by sending it back to the House for what’s known as concurrence.

“It will not make it through. It will not become a bill in front of the governor,” Kolb said. “I am not going to get overcome by the emotional argument that someone’s trying to take away anyone’s rights.”

A litany of other amendments proposed in the Senate failed to tweak the bill. Rothfuss brought an amendment to allow political parties to opt out. Sens. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) and Cale Case (R-Lander) brought amendments to shorten the blackout period, the idea being that voters should have the ability to know who is running before they affiliate with a party. 

“I find a lot of irony here,” Case said. “We are at a time in our state government where the five elected officials are all of one party. Our Congresspeople are one party and both [legislative chambers] are dominated by one party.” But that dominance was not enough to satisfy the Republican party, Case said. 

The Senate on Friday voted 19-11 to pass the bill on third reading. 

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. Out of the rights guaranteed to me under the U S and Wyoming State constitutions, voting is the only right I have to register for.

  2. When I was first able to vote at age 18 there was a deadline for when you could register to vote. If you missed that deadline, you could not vote in the primary. However, I think that you could still register and then being registered you could vote in the general election. I remember this being changed because too many people couldn’t seem to remember to get registered by the deadline, or perhaps as is human nature just procrastinated until it was too late and complained to whomever would listen to them until that law was changed.

  3. The Wyoming and US Constitutions guarantee us freedom of association. We have the right to associate with, not associate with, or change our minds about associating with any person or group at any time. This law is egregiously unconstitutional and should not be passed; if it is, it must be vetoed. And if the Governor ignores his oath of office (which requires him to defend those Constitutions) and signs it, I’d be glad to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit to overturn it.

  4. “I’m going to choose a party that is more in alignment with my values,” Hutchings told lawmakers. “I could care less who’s going to run, that shouldn’t even be in my mind [when choosing a party].” WRONG! I also, as many who commented here, vote for the PERSON, not the party. I do agree that the primary basically decides the election, and unfortunately, many times we are trying to keep someone OUT, rather than voting someone IN.

  5. I have been voting in Wyoming for over 60 years. I have yet to experience anything about voting in our beautiful state that is broken and needs to be fixed. What is painfully obvious, the out in the ozone, ideologically right are trying to break our voting system so only they can “fix” it.

  6. Friendly amendment: designate the State Republican Party as proxy for all electors, unless an opt-out form is received 96-days prior to becoming a qualified elector

  7. United States Constitution
    1870-Voting Rights
    Article XV
    Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
    Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
    Wyoming Governor, Attorney General and both Senators should all agree that this bill is unconstitutional (Veto this bill). Federal law has primacy on this!
    I think it prudent to require every Wyoming representative and senator to read the U.S. Constitution prior to taking office. This bill should have been only presented once before the legislature. I recommend that a licensed lawyer be present at all times at these legislative sessions.

  8. Article XV of the United States Constitution:
    Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of of race, color, or previous servitude.
    Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    State of Wyoming Attorney General, Governor, and our Senators should not allow this bill to pass, its clearly unconstitutional. Federal law has primacy on this one!

  9. Well this will address nothing and it will inflame true Wyomingites. Taking the freedom to choose a candidate because some party thinks they should control the vote is not democracy. It is authoritarian and if the governor doesn’t veto this bill he has done a great disservice to the entire voting age population of Wyoming. There was nothing wrong with our system. Too much dark money and interlopers trying to control this state. This is exactly what they want. Total control.

  10. A question for the Wyofile commentators: isn’t it high time that we as a nation put this party nonsense behind us? What would be wrong with 100% of the voters (and candidates) being Independent? Voting specifically for someone who has an R or a D behind their name has not done this country and especially this state any favors. Just look at the 2023 Legislature….a whole bunch of do nothing whacko’s, buffoons and narcissists who’ve been sent to Cheyenne only because of their party affiliation. Many of these clowns would be rejected by the circus, yet here they are, “representing” us

    1. I like your suggestion about no party affilliation. However, I have to believe that the continued use of R or D associated with their names is ultimately about power and fund raising, which are closely related. This bill is nothing more than another voter suppression tool that is happening in red states throughout the country. Too bad we couldn’t see your suggestion happen along with campaign finance reform country wide.

  11. When I started voting, in 1978, in Wyoming, I voted for the best CANDIDATE. I registered in a party, but my ultimate vote went for a person.
    As it should.
    The party shouldn’t be the determining factor.

  12. No one is prevented from voting for any candidate in the general election. The only “required ” election is the general. Primaries are only for the convenience of parties. So-called “open” primaries eliminate the need for parties. For the federal and state offices the crossover “problem” has so far probably not had an effect on those outcomes. However, because of the much smaller number of voters involved in all the state house and senate, and local partisan elections, there could easily be an undue influence on a party’s choice of candidates. To falsely declare allegiance to a party just to influence an outcome is morally wrong. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for some.

    1. “To falsely declare allegiance to a party just to influence an outcome is morally wrong.”

      There is nothing immoral about exercising your right to elect who you think are the best candidates for the Wyoming. Since Wyoming is dominated by the GOP, this means voting for GOP candidates, regardless of the political philosophy of the voter. Perhaps all voters should be viewed as independents set on making their votes count.

    2. The point is that the best candidate at this time is selected in the primary. So this bill takes the right to vote from everyone in this state. We should align with a candidate that represents us. Not a party. Especially a party that has been taken over by outside for es and interlopers and dark money.

    3. You ever buy a car without knowing the make, model, year, or mileage?

      You ever buy a house sight unseen?

      Do you routinely go see movies without watching the trailer or at least having an idea of what the movie is about?

      Expecting people to blindly follow whoever the bass-ackwards wyoming gop puts in front of them is ridiculous. Vowing loyalty to a party without knowing the potential candidates is what most reasonable people would view as “morally wrong”.

      Decide for yourself who the best candidate is. Not the candidate that you are TOLD to support.

    4. I have voted in every Wyoming election since 1972 and I agree with Charles Smith’s comments.

      In this state, if you are an independent, you have few choices for candidates during the primary. Recently, because Wyoming has become the most Republican state in the nation, the only way to make any difference with my one vote is to register as a Republican. Richard Jones, if you think it’s morally wrong, tell me what’s right about excluding people from being able to vote for candidates instead of party? Do you think passing bills like HB103 will drive more people to register as Republicans, or just disenfranchised them so they don’t vote at all?

      I hope the governor has the courage to veto this bill!

  13. This is a severe litmus test of Governor Gordon’s leadership. Will he follow his own principles , or will he cave to the pressures of the extreme right wing rabble in his Party ? Crossover voting threatens no one, and has altered no outcomes . It is a separate form of voter open choice. This bill is a solution for a nonexistent problem… a red herring.

    I’m hoping he vetoes this ill bill. The better path for the Wyoming political landscape would be open primaries and ranked choice voting.

  14. Wyoming is for freedom? Wyoming is “The Equality State.” I think not – on both counts. This bill is but one that proves that Wyoming is not (of the above) in any way shape or form. We expect our young people to stay here and contribute to our economy? I will not encourage my only grandchild to stay after he has gotten his education. This bill is one reason.

  15. Given their extremism I have chose to not be affiliated with either party, but rather vote for the candidates. I do extensive research on each candidate for each office before I vote. By making an affiliation necessary before the candidates are even known takes away my ability to vote for who I feel is the best candidate for a position during the primary. Thanks to the state legislature for taking that freedom.

  16. “I’m going to choose a party that is more in alignment with my values,” Hutchings told lawmakers. “I could care less who’s going to run, that shouldn’t even be in my mind [when choosing a party].”

    Which, of course, is now the major problem in government. Blind affiliation with a party as opposed to voting for the individual you think will do the best job, and actually has a chance of winning an election.

    Just one more form of voter suppression put forth by the GOP.

  17. Note to the “intelligentsia” within the Wyo GOP. The crossover voters you fear have already changed affiliations…..and now are just staying put. I’m not sure that you have accomplished much other than making yourselves look like the partisan hacks you are. Try that one on for size if and when critical thought returns….

    1. I totally agree! Most members of my family registered as Republicans when Gordon won the primary over Foster Friess as this was the first time we truly feared who would win the Republican nomination. Before that most Republicans who won the primary weren’t necessarily my choice, but I didn’t consider them dangerous (with maybe the exception of Cindy Hill who the GOP also didn’t like). However, we have not changed our party affiliation because now every election has people we fear and we all know that 99.9% of the time the primary decides the general election in Wyoming. By being registered Republicans is the only way to have our voices heard in Wyoming elections. I’m all for open primaries so we don’t have to play the party game.

  18. When someone turns 18, they are often excited about registering to vote. However, if their birthday falls too close to a primary election they will be out of luck. Their next chance to vote is usually two years later. Will the excitement have worn off and they don’t bother? Clearly, all this talk about keeping young people in Wyoming is just talk when the legislature continues to pass laws that are discouraging to the youth.

  19. Agree with Paul Cook. The ONLY vote in Wyoming, the only vote is the Republican primary. If we wish to retain our right to vote we must register as republicans, simple and done.

  20. What the proponents of this bill have accomplished is to waste an enormous amount of time and energy and to prove they’re not for voting freedom.
    They’ve “solved” nothing. I’ll simply leave my Unaffiliated political affiliation at Republican.

  21. I think open primaries would solve the entire problem. Allowing independents the right to vote in the primary would be a good start. Then tiered voting should be implemented .

    1. The GOP fears they would lose if we had open primaries. Wyoming is always behind the rest of the country, so we’ll have to wait for the dinosaurs to retire.

  22. I only promised once “til death do us part,” and it certainly wasn’t to a political party.
    I have shopped for cars a number of times, though, and I waited until each manufacturer’s new models came out before I decided which car company I wanted to look at. I knew what I was looking for, and I wanted to see which model offered more of what I wanted.
    As a Wyoming voter, I see the cross-over voting bill asking me to commit to a long-term relationship with a party before I even know which “models” the party is offering this election cycle.
    I have admired and respected many legislators and office holders in both the Republican and the Democratic parties over the 50+ years I’ve been eligible to vote. Others, not so much. I would feel quite disenfranchised if I were required to blindly pick a party before I knew who the individual candidates were.

  23. So GOP is afraid of cross over voters? Take the hint GOP mafia types. If people not happy with party candidate. They simply won’t vote. GOP. Your current state of operation they will simply disregard rule. Or not vote at all. GOP needs overhaul.

  24. Wyoming claims to be about freedom. What about the freedom to vote for whomever you choose? Filing paperwork 3 months ahead of time to change party is ridiculous. One might have to pick a party before even knowing the candidates! Shameful.

    I have to say that this legislative session has been more than disappointing. So many terribly written, pointless bills that do nothing useful for our state. So much wasted time and money. There are some good folks in the legislature but this session is a downright travesty.

  25. It’s we the people, not we the party. Isn’t this an attempt of out of state dark money trying to get Chuck Gray elected as the next governor. Then he can start selling off the state to the highest bidder.

  26. As a Republican all I can say is that “paranoia will destroya”. Wyoming Legislature clown brigade 2023 will go down in the books as the year of the circus

  27. Much ado about nothing. With fasciuglicans and fasciocrats, it’s a “heads I win, tails you lose affair” for most voters. “Both” parties are completely sold out to the wealthy. And, people just shrug and wave their flags.