Wyoming’s House districts in June 2021. (Legislative Services Office website)

Wyoming lawmakers have begun the lengthy and involved process of redrawing legislative district maps for the next decade.  

The Joint Committee on Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions’s June 7 meeting marked the beginning of months of data crunching, discussion and negotiation on how population changes recorded in the 2020 census will affect representation in the Wyoming Legislature. The results could impact sitting legislators, shift the voting tendencies of individual districts, affect the partisan representation in the House and Senate and have unforeseen implications on policy making.

The process will not be simple. Without a complete data set from the U.S. Census Bureau, lawmakers still do not fully understand how populations changed in cities, counties and towns when the count was tallied on April 1, 2020. They also have to identify any laws regulating the state’s electoral districts they would like to change. These could range from rules governing how communities are assigned representatives to the ultimate number of members of the Legislature there will be.

Here’s a guide to how the process will unfold. 

How redistricting works

The Wyoming Constitution provides that the House must have at least twice the number of members as the Senate. Right now there are 60 House Districts and 30 Senate districts. Each is defined by a number of characteristics including distinct neighborhoods, geography and demographics.

With every new census, those characteristics can fluctuate, spurred by anything from new development in a downtown neighborhood to a bust in the oil and gas fields. Members of the Legislature, with the help of local officials, are tasked with redrawing the maps every decade to reflect those changes in a manner that ensures equitable representation.

Representatives and Senators crowd the House floor on the first day of the 2020 Legislative session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFIle)

Once county-level census data (or at least estimates) are available, lawmakers — with the help of a Geographic Information Systems consultant and legal counsel — will compare demographic changes from the 2010 to 2020 census in an effort to gauge where the most significant redraws will need to occur. From there, specific committee members (typically hailing from the Corporations Committee) begin the lengthy process of meeting with local residents and officials to fine tune where the lines will ultimately fall.

Once preliminary maps are drawn, the plan will go to the full Legislature for approval during the 2022 Budget Session this winter. 

Though Wyoming is unlikely to see major shifts to its district maps due to its anemic growth, the process still has potential for significant implications.

Senate District 6 in Laramie County, for example, reaches across a county line to capture the population of a corrections facility. Some urban areas, such as Laramie, have seen a rash of new development on their outskirts. And in Sublette County, notable fluctuations in the natural gas industry have occurred over the last several years, impacting employment and residency numbers there.

Keeping communities together

Federal law mandates redistricting efforts incorporate the principle of “one man, one vote”. In a nutshell, this means lawmakers must design maps in an effort to ensure Wyoming’s voters are divided into as equal proportions as possible, and that lawmakers represent “people, not trees,” according to the National Constitution Center. 

But in Wyoming, this task is often easier said than done. Wyoming is defined by small population centers dotting a massive land area and distinct landscapes like the Red Desert and the Bighorn Basin. To keep district sizes in balance and population counts even, lawmakers often have to represent numerous communities with distinct interests.

That equilibrium is easier to find in some districts than others. The Wind River Indian Reservation in Fremont County, for example, is clearly distinct from the surrounding area, enabling district drawers to keep most reservation residents in the same district. Larger municipalities also offer lawmakers more flexibility in defining where district lines fall. While some, like Cheyenne, use a “pie slice” model in which urban neighborhoods are lumped in with more rural neighborhoods, cities like Casper have districts that occasionally consist of a distinct portion of the city, like Rep. Jerry Obermueller’s largely urban House District 56. These districts are typically the first to be mapped out.

The Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, Wyoming’s second-largest city. (Wyoming Medical Center)

Keeping similar populations together in more sparsely populated regions can often be a challenge, however, resulting in districts that can span hundreds of miles of terrain.

Senate District 11 and House District 47 — represented by Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) and Rep. Jerry Paxton (R-Paxton), respectively — both stretch from the outskirts of Albany County to the edge of Rock Springs, and from the state’s southern border to the base of the Pathfinder Wildlife Refuge in Natrona County. Other lawmakers, like Senate Majority Leader Ogden Driskill (R-Devil’s Tower), have represented rural districts that overlap the borders of multiple counties, meaning even greater workloads for politicians representing the interests of several counties.

“In my first term, I represented five counties at one time,” Driskill said. “You’ve got five county governments, six or seven school boards […] there is a huge difference in quality representation. One man, one vote is fine. But also for them to have adequate representation means that representatives have to be able to do a quality job.”

Legal challenges, complications

Lawmakers have some leeway when it comes to drawing rural districts. According to Ben Williams, a redistricting expert with the National Council on State Legislatures who testified Monday, the “one man, one vote” principle is continually evolving at the state level, and rural districts may have some ability to deviate from the standard to keep communities of interest together.

However, litigation is often an inevitability in states’ redistricting efforts. In testimony to lawmakers Monday, Legislative Service Office attorney Ted Hewitt described a number of lawsuits that have come to shape the fundamental principles of redistricting in Wyoming.

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Lawmakers could change the law to avoid some of these challenges. In 1992, for example, the Wyoming Legislature voted to do away with multi-member districts, in which more than one senator or representative was elected to represent the entire district. Many political observers, such as longtime Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), said that change was a prime contributor to a decline in political and demographic diversity in the Legislature.

The Legislature could change the number of legislative districts, according to the Legislative Services Office, but only as long as lawmakers hold to the principle of twice as many House districts than Senate districts. 

Hijacking the process

While redistricting in Wyoming is bound by strict protocols, the process is still prone to some gamesmanship.

An amendment during the 2002 redistricting process, for example, split the Town of Jackson — arguably the most progressive district in Wyoming — into two districts. 

During the last redistricting process, in 2011, some lawmakers were accused of drawing questionable lines of demarcation in their home districts to help preserve their election chances, including the border-jumping line to include a prison in Senate District 6.

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  1. The photo of the Wyoming legislature says it all, as does the quote “one MAN, one vote.”

    Redistricting isn’t the solution to our problem.

  2. “Without a complete data set from the U.S. Census Bureau, lawmakers still do not fully understand how populations changed in cities, counties and towns when the count was tallied on April 1, 2020.”

    I, for one, never got or filled out a census form. Add one more person to Teton County. Probably more yhan a few Latino residents were in the same boat. COVID.

  3. I guess shameless gerrymandering is pointless since nearly the whole state is GOP anyway.

    We won’t see the Republican Party performing some of the dirty tricks that it has perfected over the years.

    But not to worry: With this bunch one never has to wait long for the next controversy.

  4. The fundamental principle underlying our democracy, which Wyoming must honor in its 2022 re-districting is, “one person, one vote”. Small deviations have been found to be constitutional – it is not necessary to carve off someone’s back bedroom to keep representation identical between districts – but “small” means 10% or less. Senator Driskill makes good points about the “quality of representation” and the value of living in proximity to one’s representatives, but there are no provisions for defining, much less enforcing, “quality of representation” in the U.S. Constitution.

    A person who has chosen to live in Dixon or Wamsutter or Lysite or Hulett has chosen to forego the opportunity to routinely run into their representative at the grocery store or basketball game, just as they have chosen to forego the educational, medical, and shopping opportunities of life in downtown Cheyenne. Presumably, their choice is motivated by things they value more highly – open space, wildlife, family traditions, a rural lifestyle, ….

    But why on earth should my vote be weighted more heavily than that of a person in Cheyenne just because I have chosen to live in Bairoil? Are folks in Wyoming’s far-flung small communities wiser than their urban neighbors? Do they contribute a larger share to the state budget? Do they consistently produce higher-quality legislators?

    No. Folks are folks. And we are all entitled to the same voting power, no matter where we live. Democracy demands no less.

    As always, our legislators face significant geographic challenges in redistricting, and they should apply all available tools to do the best job they can for the people of Wyoming. As was pointed out at the committee meeting, those tools include changing the size of the Legislature, converting to multi-member districts, and using ever-more-sophisticated computer analysis. Behind all of that, however, must be the bedrock principle of democratic representation – one person, one vote.

  5. Map not accurate , I don’t see House District 55, Riverton. haven’t look for more omissions.