Senate leadership resuscitated a bill to limit crossover voting by restricting how and when Wyoming residents may affiliate with a political party on Tuesday.
House Bill 103 – Political party affiliation declaration and changes moved through its original chamber with minimal opposition, but came to a halt last week as the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee voted 3-1 with one excused against the bill.
A failure to pass committee is typically the end of the line for a bill.
The legislation got a second chance at becoming a law, however, when Senate Majority Floor Leader Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) brought two successful motions to the floor — one to recall HB 103 from the Corporations Committee, a second to reassign it to another committee for consideration. The resurrection was possible due to a rule that’s rarely invoked, much less successfully. Senate Rule 5-5 allows lawmakers to overrule a committee’s rejection of a bill with a simple majority vote and thereby revive it.
The chamber voted 19-12 to retrieve the bill and 16-14 with one excused to assign it to the Senate Revenue Committee, where, observers believe, its passage is all but guaranteed.
Debate on the matter focused not on the merit of the bill, but rather the appropriateness of thwarting the will of one of the chamber’s own committees.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) told lawmakers.
Currently, Wyoming voters have the right to change their party affiliation at any time including on Election Day. That’s long been a thorn in the side of the Wyoming Republican Party, who objects to residents from other parties registering as Republicans to vote for their preferred primary election candidates — also known as crossover voting.
The issue became a priority for the GOP after Gov. Mark Gordon secured the Republican nomination in the 2018 gubernatorial race with less than 50% of the vote. Some conservatives credited his victory to Democratic support. Uproar then ramped up in 2022 due to fears that liberals and independents would sway the high-profile race between Liz Cheney and Harriet Hageman for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat. Party-favorite Hageman trounced the incumbent, nonetheless.
Despite passion and many past attempts, lawmakers have never successfully prohibited crossover voting. This session, lawmakers brought four bills to add restrictions. All four died. Now one has been revived.
If enacted, HB 103 would stop residents from changing party affiliation or canceling their voter registration anytime after the nomination period opens for candidates, which falls 96 days ahead of the primary election, per state statute. Thereby forcing voters to choose a party before the candidates are announced.
Secretary of State Chuck Gray — who campaigned for his new role as the state’s top election official on unverified claims that there were “tremendous problems” with the security of Wyoming’s elections — made ending crossover voting a top legislative priority. Gray gave committee testimony in favor of anti-crossover voting bills such as HB 103, which he preferred to the other, less-restrictive bills.
In committee, Sen. Brian Boner (R- Douglas) was the one member to vote in favor of the bill, while Sens. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette), Cale Case (R-Lander) and Charles Scott (R-Casper) opposed it. Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper) was excused.
On the floor, Nethercott opposed reviving the failed legislation on account of the committee’s rejection.
“What is the point of committees? And what is the point of the process if all we’re going to do is up-end it?” Nethercott said. She also raised concerns with the motion opening a can of worms by setting a new precedent for when the body is dissatisfied with a bill’s committee outcome.
“Imagine the chaos and the time and the disruption,” she said. Nethercott also opposed sending an election-related bill to a committee that does not deal with election issues, “likely for a predetermined outcome.”
The rule should be used sparingly, Hicks said, but it was available to the body for a reason. It was the degree of support from the body — including in years past — for the measure that made circumstances just right in Hicks’ view.
“I think the body basically vindicated that it was a proper reading [of the rule],” Hicks told WyoFile.
To his recollection, Case said the body had not overruled a committee’s decision to kill a bill during his more than two decades in the Senate. He also thought the rule had been used improperly. Having already failed, the bill was no longer with the Corporations Committee, according to Case, and as such couldn’t be recalled from it.
Case expected the bill to get the approval of its newly assigned committee, but anticipated “a big floor fight” once it returns to the chamber.
“It’s gonna be a hot one!,” he said.