Foster Friess (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

The morning after his GOP primary election loss, Foster Friess asked other state party gubernatorial candidates whether they would support banning Democrats from switching parties on primary day.

In an email to Wyoming GOP chairman Frank Eathorne and to each Republican candidate or a representative of their campaign — with the exception of Gordon — Friess said voting results didn’t reflect his vision of Wyoming’s political makeup.

“It seems like the Democrats have figured out this party switch deal to their advantage,” Friess said in the email. “I guess there’s 114,000 registered Republicans and 17,000 registered Democrats. No way is that the actual mix, and with Trump getting 70% of the vote, it shows how the Democrats have been able to control our elections with putting on a Republican coat.”

WyoFile received the email from an anonymous source. Friess confirmed in a phone call he wrote the email, but asked for questions about it to be sent to him via email so he could consider whether to answer them. He later declined to comment. “That was not intended to go public,” Friess said of the email.

Eathorne did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment about the email.

Friess began his email with the question: “What do you think of increasing our chances … of getting a conservative elected as governor four years from now?”

Friess suggested two changes to Wyoming election law, which today allows people to change their party registration the day of a primary to vote in either the Republican or Democratic race.

If the candidates were interested in “getting together and putting our constituents together,” Friess wrote, “we could do two things.” His first suggestion was to change the policy of same-day registration to “something like 25 days.”

The second was to have a runoff election. “The conservative vote was split among us, and I think 26 states do have a run off [sic],” he wrote. “So, in this case a conservative would have won if the run off [sic] policy was in place.”  

Runoff elections usually consist of a second race in which voters select between the top two vote-getters from the first round, according to the election information website Ballotpedia. They occur in states that require voters to have a majority as opposed to a plurality of the vote to receive the primary nomination.

If a runoff had been held in this case, Friess and Gordon would have moved to a second round, and Friess, or Gordon, may have had a chance to bring over like-minded voters from the other candidates. According to Ballotpedia, 10 states have primary runoff elections. In one state, Vermont, runoffs are only held in the case of a tie, according to the website.  

In his email, Friess also suggested he intended to become more involved with Wyoming politics, and offered to support his recent rival’s endeavors.

“To my fellow candidates who I have copied, except for Mark, again I want to say how blessed I am to have gotten to know you better and how I admire each of you for what you have accomplished so far, and I’m looking forward to helping you succeed in your endeavors,” he wrote. “Let me know how I could play a role in that.”

“God has blessed me with resources that I’m sure He would like to be put to use to further our Founding Father values and His values,” Friess added.

In an interview with the Jackson Hole News & Guide last night following his concession, Friess touted the accomplishments of his campaign. “Most importantly, we feel we’ve had a victory in that we’ve established a change in the culture in our state,” he said.

He told the newspaper he intended to stay involved in Wyoming politics.

A screenshot of Friess’ email, which was sent to WyoFile by an anonymous source. Friess confirmed in a phone call he’d written the email.

At least one other candidate on the email agreed with Friess that voters shouldn’t switch parties to influence elections, and that she would like to see a change. “It has been an issue in Wyoming for a long time,” Harriet Hageman told WyoFile. She had not been able to look at the numbers sufficiently to know whether such switching could have influenced the outcome this year, she said. “There are Republicans and Democrats for a reason,” Hageman said.

Phoebe Stoner, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, which works on governance issues, disagrees.

“Sounds like an idea that is coming from an outsider,” Stoner said of Friess’ email. “It contradicts the very spirit of Wyoming,” she said in a telephone interview. “This is a place where often voters don’t want to be put in a box or limited to party politics. We have many independent non-affiliated voters as well as voters affiliated with smaller parties such as the Libertarian Party.

“Citizens of Wyoming have the fundamental right to vote for who they believe to be the best candidate in the race of their choice,” Stoner said. “We should not be working to restrain them because some didn’t get the results they wanted.”

What does this mean for Gordon?

Gordon has faced attacks over the last few months challenging his conservative credentials, with many coming through anonymous fliers and pre-recorded phone calls the sources of which have yet to be identified.

Through a campaign spokesperson, the Gordon campaign declined to comment for this story.

Gordon has repeatedly pushed back against the attacks and said he was running as a conservative. In the days leading up to the primary vote, yet another “dark money” political group joined a number of others already operating in the state. Called the Independent Republicans of Wyoming, the group registered as a 501(c)4 nonprofit, allowing it to spend money on politics without disclosing where contributions came from.

Through a campaign labeled “Switch for Wyoming,” the group called on Independents and Democrats in Wyoming to cross party lines and vote for Gordon, in order to keep a “moderate” option in the governor’s race.

Asked about the group at his campaign’s watch party in Buffalo last night, Gordon told WyoFile he did not know who was behind it.

“I don’t know anything about that stuff,” he said less than an hour before news sites declared him the victor. Gordon added he was “disappointed” by that effort, as well as by the amount of anonymous spending and “the kinda whisper stuff” generally.

He did not know if the Independent Republicans of Wyoming group’s efforts had been designed to help him, he said, or to hurt his campaign by further painting him as a false conservative. “At this point I don’t trust anything,” he said.

With the primary over, Gordon will want the Republican party to coalesce behind him for his general election campaign against Democrat Mary Throne. As of Tuesday night, the party intended to do that, according to a report in the Casper Star-Tribune.

It’s unclear whether sufficient voters switched to make a difference in the election. Gordon defeated Friess, his closest competitor, by 9,098 votes, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office.

According to those results, 19,469 Democrats voted in yesterday’s Democratic primary — 5,252 fewer than the 24,721 who voted in the last major Democratic primary for a gubernatorial race, in 2010. All other things being equal one might estimate that 5,252 Democrats switched to the Republican primary this year.

But the 2010 Democratic primary was far more competitive than this year’s, giving Democrats a reason to weigh in on their preliminary election. The result was a close finish between candidates Pete Gosar and Leslie Petersen.

This year, however, Democrat Mary Throne was largely seen as running without serious competition, and handily won her party’s nomination with 10,553 votes more than her closest rival.

Support independent reporting — become a WyoFile supporting member

Republican turnout was up compared to 2010, when 106,404 people voted. This year, there were 117,988 Republican ballots cast — out of the 177,604 people that were registered Republicans in the state before polls opened. That means 11,584 more voters cast ballots in the 2018 GOP primary than the 2010 tilt.

Overall, turnout was the highest it’s ever been in a primary election, said Will Dinneen, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office. But if measured against the eligible voting-age population, the turnout was one point lower than in 2010, Dineen said.

Friess isn’t the first Republican to suggest closing the primaries. During the 2017 legislative session, some Republican lawmakers proposed a bill restricting party changes to 30 days out from a primary election. The bill passed the House and failed by one vote in the Senate Corporations Committee.

In deep-red Wyoming, Independent and Democrat voters have often seen voting Republican as the only way to meaningfully participate in races, particularly some at the local level, opponents of the legislation said at the time.

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

Join the Conversation

30 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. It pretty much boils down to this: a billionaire carpetbagger, posing as one with the working man, so laughaby transparent in addition to incredibly boneheaded sexist, is pissed off he couldn’t buy the election. Not this time, buddy boy, but maybe a little more toadying up to some of our alt-right legislators who speak at least a bit of your sanctimonious talk, might be able to help out your next go-round.

  2. This may be difficult for Foster to understand, but this is not all about him. I need to have a voice in who my sheriff is. If no Democrats run, I need switch my affiliation to Democrat. Same for county commissioners and numerous other state offices. I assume my vote counts very little in Presidential races, but, if I were ever to make a difference it would be in local, county and state races. I need to be able to vote for the best candidte. I take my voting right very seriously and appreciate the fact men like Foster actually let me have the vote in 1919.

  3. Party switching is a critical RIGHT in any state dominated by a single party. If ya can’t switch in Wyoming who the hell are you gonna vote for?

    Besides how many Democrats switch to vote for Foster? I am an undercover Democrat, have been for over thirty years jumping to Republican because that’s the only way my vote will actually count – actually mean anything. Did I switch in Aug? Maybe. Dud I vote for Foster? Maybe… Could have.

    Foster, you knew the rules going in, ran hard, but came up just a tad short. It’s over. Try again! Your a better man than this!

  4. Day before the primary election, got a letter in the mail from one Donald Trump, Jr. strongly suggesting that I cast my vote for Foster Friess. Well, that sealed the deal for me, and is pretty much why I decided to cast my vote for Mr. Gordon. Am fed up with big money telling me who to vote for in WY.

  5. Laughing out loud. While Mr. Moneybags is making his changes, let him change the makeup of the U.S. Senate so that it is apportioned democratically, by population, instead of giving 84 percent of the population 50 senators with the other 50 going to the remaining 15 percent of the population. And he should spend some time and money getting the electoral college process abolished. It simply is one more instance of nondemocratic politics.

  6. Would it not be most fair to remove all reference to party affiliation and handle the primary just as a local election? It would be interesting to see how people would vote if they had no idea what party the candidate identified with. It would, of course, confuse all the people who only vote for the (R)s or the (D)s without regard to their qualifications for the office. I guarantee it would produce a more informed voter.

    Just wondering aloud.

  7. The only voting law I would like to see changed is having to show an ID to get a ballot. I needed an ID to get a library card. Hopefully we hold our elections in higher regard. I didn’t know the people handing out the ballots and they didn’t know me. It would appear that any male walking up and saying he is me could have voted for me. I hope a state legislator will read this and do something about it.

  8. Is it irony that FF chooses to live in the only Democratic county in an otherwise bright red state? Or just an act of God?

    I’m an independent, and I vote for individuals rather than party. We tend to use labels in order to easily assign blame or defend circumstances. However, extremists, Republican or otherwise, wish to get where they want to go NO MATTER WHAT. That’s their real goal. Not the good of our country.

  9. In many county races there are several republicans running in the primary and no democrat or independent running in the general. So the only way to have a say in that local race is to be a registered republican on primary day. Also democrats could have switched to vote against Senator Barrasso or others.

  10. in Wyoming, the primary election is used to present your own parties best candidate for the general election in November. Because this is true, it begs the question, why do we allow other parties to help us pick our top candidate? If other parties can’t produce candidates for the primaries of their own political beliefs, is that reason enough to allow them to have any influnce in selecting the opossing parties candidate? I believe this was the question that Foster was asking. If Candidates have to win the liberal vote in the primaries as well, we will have politicians speaking out of both sides of their mouth.

  11. My switiching my party affiliation, nor did the sum of all other voters who did the same, did not cost Froster Frieze the election. Foster failed to get enough Republicans, period.

    How else does one vote for the individual and not just cast a vote for the same party everytime if switiching parties is made more complicated and/or restrictive?

    Why do the Republicans seem to consistently have a problem with choice?

  12. Shucks Foster, you aren’t setting out the welcome mat for the new members of the Republican Party.
    I look forward to working with you and Harriet in addressing the problems Wyoming and the nation face. Perhaps we can work together to put forth solutions for climate change, environmental degradation, and affordable health care. Let’s install true Christian values in the Republican Party and address US income inequality where Americans in the top 1 percent are taking in over 198 times the income of the bottom ninety percent.

  13. Friess and his ilk can drink from the cup of sour grapes juice and spew all they want about Dems crossing over to vote for his opponent. He and the rest of his pernicious Wyoming Republican Party seem to have forgotten that it was Republicans who crossed over to provide the critical differential that elected both Mike Sullivan and Dave Freudenthal as Governors. Democratic governors.

    Be mindful of that. Then consider carefully what you ask for. The 800 lb. creatures in the room are Dark Money predators persuasion and political vampires that subvert the process without being required to reveal themselves. Sunshine destroys them. A good argument for more sunshine, if ever…

    Full disclosure: By the definition in the Wyoming Cowboy English dictionary , I am a liberal democratic spocialist who’s been a registered RINO since Reagan years. I do want my vote to count for something in Wyoming. I cannot achieve much inside the confines of a Democratic primary election. So I long ago crossed over . I also vote for a lot of Republicans in good measure if they pass muster. At the end of the day in Wyoming, it’s not about party loyalty to me. That would mean the brainwash is working. The antidote is to keep an open mind, and vote where it counts. That quite often means voting against – not for – a particular partisan candidate for the greater good. Guilty as charged.

  14. Wyoming should adopt Top 2 which is used in Washington, California, and Louisiana, and in Nebraska for legislative elections.

    All candidates appear on the ballot and voters choose who they want to elect. They do not have to declare to state officials what their political beliefs are in order to be permitted to vote.

    Wyoming could also provide that a candidate who receives a majority of the vote in the primary is elected.

  15. The Friess morning after suggestion that election laws be changed to the advantage of any candidate running in any primary shows distrust of the public.

    It demonstrates fear of the common sense which voters demonstrate.

    The proposition encourages more certainty for the candidate. Less for the voters.

    Why should voters be required to give the advantage to anyone running for public office?

    Votes should be earned, not counted upon through law beforehand by people running for public office..

    Those elected to public office work for everyone. Everyone who votes, regardless
    of political affiliation, ends up placing an individual in public office, It can be a messy business,
    but apparently our election laws work well.

    All voices, all votes are needed to make Wyoming work.

  16. I was the campaign manager for Rocky De La Fuente in California between December 15, 2016 and January 2, 2017 for a House of Representatives
    seat in Los Angeles, CA.

    This last election in Wyoming shows that new Republican voters were also backing the senate race in higher numbers for new Republican Rocky De La Fuente, since he was a Democrat in 2016.

    This is a bad idea.

    Mark Seidnberg

  17. I’m curious where Mr. Friess has been living and voting for the past 20 years. Every time the cross-over vote is believed to determine a winner, GOP leaders stew and demand that such “mischief” stop. Proposals in the Legislature have attempted to squelch this by dictating the lead time a person must lock in their partisan affiliation — sometimes up to three months before a Primary. Oddly enough, this would produce hordes of RINOs, which cause so much heartburn.
    Primary cross-overs are a time honored practice in Wyoming, where the Republican party dominates and where the ballot often has the eventual winner. If this is news to Mr. Friess, he needs to spend more time in Wyoming.
    We all should be able to get up on the day of the election and decide whom to vote for, Why should partisan interests make us lock into one ballot or another weeks or months ahead? (Answer: no reason)
    Plus, consider that same-day registration exempts our state from motor-voter requirements.
    I understand that it makes you mad when you lose an election because of cross-over voting, but if you lost it’s probably for a good reason.
    Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

  18. As far as I am concerned in a perfect world there would be no parties.. Each candidate would run and be elected based upon that candidate’s platform . There would be no letter of the alphabet following that person’s name as it appeared on the ballot. There would be a primary which would narrow the field down to the top two vote-getter’s who would move on to the general election . Such a system would require a voter to become educated or at least familiar with each candidate’s positions on issues as opposed to simply voting for a candidate based upon what letter of the alphabet followed the candidate’s name. The Republican Party in this state of course would never agree to such a thing . Therefore maybe all of the Democrats should change their party affiliation and become Republicans. Everyone would be a registered Republican which would have the practical effect of eliminating the party system.

  19. “God has blessed me with resources that I’m sure He would like to be put to use to further our Founding Father values and His values,”

    Wow, I didn’t know God discriminated and played favorites. I wonder why God did not make me rich? Perhaps the same reason he apparently decided that FF would not be a good Governor for Wyoming. In any event, I am hearing that almost 2,000 of us here in Albany County changed our jackets to Republican ones on election day to vote in the Republican Primary. How much you want to bet that 95% of those “turncoats” did that for sole purpose of making sure they cast a ballot to prevent FF from buying a governorship as his new hobby.

    All of that said: I certainly think my favorite quote of the week is this one: “it shows how the Democrats have been able to control our elections with putting on a Republican coat.”

    Wow, Wyoming Democrats controlling an election? I think that might be an oxymoron.

    Too bad this was even made news. Hopefully FF goes back into his hole in Jackson, and we do not have to look at any more pictures of him with his fake black cowboy hat.

  20. Wyoming should and could eliminate all this by having an open primary… Just look at our neighbor to the north in Montana they have that system… I talk to a man about it as a young person and independent… He stated it was great, for then the people vote for who they want to follow. Really look at the Wyoming two-party system, if your, not a fair-haired member, then the organization works against you even from within… Values are one thing alliance is another and right now through another state primary, I see the same old game just another day… Independent people and the other parties should play a role and should not have to register to vote, for do not Governor’s and Congressional Representatives Represent all the people? Not in Wyoming and that is not Liberty that is the party path to dominance.

    1. No, the replacement should be to get rid of primaries and have a single Ranked Choice General election with anyone who currently qualifies to be in the primary automatically qualified for the general.

      The purpose of a primary is for party members to select the person they think best reflects the philosophy of the party. Its only purpose is to winnow the field to avoid vote splitting which is exactly what can happen in an open primary. This encourages all parities to discourage multiple candidates from their party to avoid it. That’s not a step in the direction of more voter choice. If there are several popular primary candidates who split the main vote, a candidate with a smaller but dedicated following can often come out on top by plurality. With RCV candidates with lower support will be eliminated round by round regardless of their party. The votes of their supporters will then transfer to their next ranking. The result will be a majority winner with the most overall support regardless of their party affiliation.

      As an additional benefit the state would save the entire cost of holding a primary election. Mud-slinging is also reduceds as candidates need to campaign for lower ranking from those who first choice is someone else. Throwing mud at those candidates is not likely to get their supporters to do that.

  21. “There are Republicans and Democrats for a reason,” Hageman said.

    HA HA, what a crock. Let me know where in the Constitution it talks about Parties? They cannot get the Constitution correct and I am certain they are getting Bible wrong.

    Apparently God told Foster, Harriet and Taylor to run so that Gordon would be elected. So now God is telling Foster that voter suppression of choice is the right thing to do. Incredible, but not un believable.

    If you want an evangelical to win the Governorship, then get your egos out the room and pick one to run! I am sure God will tell you which one he/she ordains if you just pray hard enough.

    Have a Blessed Day

  22. Labels matter, ask any marketer. “Conservative” doesn’t mean radical, or rich, which are more apt descriptions of Mr. Friess views. Wyoming rejected a carpetbagger’s attempt to redefine our values.

    When Friess indicated that he believed “Citizens United “ was “properly decided” he disqualified himself in my opinion. Our Wyoming Constitution limits voters to people, not corporations. Good riddance to corporate personhood!

    When “the man with the gold makes the rules,” becomes the soil [sic] organizing principle, humanity is lost. Wyoming won the GOP primary.

  23. I would like to forward this to friends, but you do not offer that option. This news needs to be around. What a really vapid comment and thought for Friess to think everyone in a party would vote the same. Many of us Republicans voted for Mark Gordon. And then Foster wants to stay involved in politics, what does that mean? How about he get involved with the people and learn about the residents?

    1. You can copy and paste the https: address above to your email or use the facebook/ twitter etc. buttons below to share. Or suggest they check out WyoFile themselves.

  24. Thanks for reporting on this exchange. What is discussed here by Friess and friends is voter suppression, and all Wyomingites need to be aware of this desired change to our democracy.

  25. FF is right about us having a problem in the WY primary elections, but he is suggesting an expensive and unwieldy solution, so I would like to propose a simple and cost-effective one: We have to do away with the “top vote getter advances” primary.
    Change it to candidate rating primary – every voter rates each candidate 0 to 5. That way you can essentially vote your preference on each candidate, if you like two or three candidates a lot, rate them all 5 if you want. If you hate them all, give all 23 candidates a 0. Highest overall rating advances to the General. It may sound a little strange at first, but we all trust this rating system and use all the time, for everything from restaurant recommendations to which car to buy.