The Wyoming Legislature is weighing more than a dozen voter-ID, absentee ballot, crossover voting and other election-related bills with more proposals expected to materialize in the coming days.
The litany of legislation follows an election year characterized by a high-profile congressional race, record voter turnout and several candidates who ran — and won — on the premise that Wyoming’s elections lacked integrity.
Most Wyoming voters remain confident in the state’s elections, according to a survey conducted by the University of Wyoming last July and August. But lawmakers say more could be done to improve the process. Several election-related bills have already been rejected by lawmakers including one to create special elections for certain vacancies, another to allow municipalities to use ranked choice voting for non-partisan races. Some of the proposals still in play could directly impact Wyoming voters the next time they cast ballots
2022 was the first major election — with all five of Wyoming’s executive branch offices on the ballot — that required Wyoming residents to show identification to cast an in-person vote. While several types of identification are currently acceptable, two bills aim to add concealed carry permits to the list.
House Bill 79 – Voter I.D.-concealed carry permit and Senate File 86 – Voter identification-concealed carry permit were drafted independently, according to Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo), who is sponsor of the House version. Without a significant difference between the two bills, Crago said he would be content with either crossing the finish line. Senate File 86 passed third reading in the Senate on Tuesday while House Bill 79 was unanimously approved by the House Agriculture, State and Public Lands, and Water Resources Committee that morning.
Crago’s bill came from a constituent request while Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) said she brought SF 86 after election workers wouldn’t let her vote in the primary election using her concealed carry permit.
Her husband drove her to vote because she was recovering from knee and hip surgery, Hutchings told lawmakers while discussing the bill.
“I got to the front of the line and I had my concealed carry ID and they said I couldn’t use that to vote,” Hutchings said on the Senate floor. “So I said, ‘we’ll fix this if we can.’”
Crago and Hutchings and 55 other lawmakers co-sponsored the 2021 measure which made identification a requirement at the polls.
“I guess we need to pay more attention to the bills we pass out of this chamber because it expressly listed those forms of ID,” Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) said while expressing support for the bill.
Acceptable forms of identification were a big point of discussion in 2021. Many considered the final, wide-ranging assortment of IDs a “terrific compromise,” according to Tom Lacock with AARP.
The inclusion of Medicare and Medicaid insurance cards was a win for his organization but now House Bill 156 – Voter identification limitations would disqualify those IDs because they lack a photograph.
“I think this is a tricky issue because on its face, why would you not want a photo ID?” Lacock said, while adding that many older residents don’t have a driver’s license. “We just want to make sure that walking away from a driver’s license doesn’t mean walking away from your right to vote.”
Bill sponsor Rep. Tony Locke (R-Casper) said he’s open to tweaking the bill to take those IDs into account.
“I am trying to be very careful about not going in with a knife and cutting across a population of valid voters that makes it hard,” Locke said.
“So I’m keeping a fairly open dialogue with folks.”
Locke said he set out to “clean up” gaps in the statute with his bill, which would prohibit voters from using an expired driver’s license as an acceptable ID. Right now, the voter ID law does not make such a specification between a valid and an expired driver’s license. Locke’s bill would add one other additional requirement. If a voter uses an ID that does not include their current address, the voter must provide two documents, such as a utility bill, pay stub or vehicle registration with their current information.
House Bill 156 was referred to the Transportation Committee which has yet to take it up.
A perennial topic of the Legislature in recent years, several lawmakers have once again set out to restrict Wyoming voters from changing party affiliation on primary Election Day. Last year, former President Donald Trump personally called Gov. Mark Gordon to express his support for such a restriction. Like the Wyoming Republican Party, Trump saw a crossover ban as a way to prevent Democrats and independents from voting for former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in the primary election. Despite the bill’s failure, Cheney lost by an overwhelming 37% margin to Harriet Hageman.
As of Tuesday morning, four crossover voting bills had hit the docket. House Bill 103 – Political party affiliation declaration and changes, House Bill 141 – Party affiliation changes, House Bill 207 – Change in party affiliation and Senate File 163 – Election integrity-primary elections would restrict when voters can change their party affiliation. All four bills were awaiting committee assignments at press time.
House Bills 103 and 141 as well as Senate File 163 would prohibit voters from changing party affiliation for the primary election anytime after the nomination period opens for candidates — that day falls 96 days ahead of the primary election, per state statute. House Bill 207 would prohibit voters from changing party affiliation anytime during the 14 days ahead of the primary election.
Secretary of State Chuck Gray, who campaigned for his new role as the state’s top election official on claims of a rigged 2020 presidential election, has made ending crossover voting a top legislative priority, according to a press release. He believes that bills which ban party changes after the first day candidate nominations are received — such as HB 103 and 141, as well as SF 163 — are more effective, according to spokesman Joe Rubino.
The popularity of voting by absentee ballot has shot up in Wyoming in recent years. The 2020 general election set a record with 46% of the ballots cast absentee. The Legislature is considering refining and restricting the process.
Wyoming’s current voter ID law does not apply to absentee voting. House Bill 219 – Voter identification-ballot requests would change that by requiring voters to show an ID when applying for an absentee ballot. If applying in writing or over the phone, voters would be required to provide the county clerk with a copy of their ID either by mail, email or “other secure electronic means.”
House Bill 211 – Ballot harvesting would specify how an absentee ballot can be delivered to the county clerk. Current state statute allows absentee ballots to be “mailed or delivered to the clerk” but does not provide any other details. The minimal guideline in statute is what drew one Democrat to co-sponsor the bill.
“I think having clarity for the clerks on what is or is not allowed would be useful,” Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) said.
The bill would keep the mail-in option but would add requirements to the hand-delivery process. That includes requiring any absentee ballot voter to fill out a form to designate a person if someone other than the voter is returning their ballot. Additionally, such a person could only return two absentee ballots in any one election. That restriction, however, would not apply to immediate family members, which the bill defines as a spouse, parent, sibling, child or other blood relative living in the individual’s household.
“I probably disagree with the prime sponsor on what the number of ballots an individual may bring in,” Yin said. “But I do think the clarity would be good to ensure everyone is clear that votes can be counted.”
Gray is supportive of the bill but would like to see at least one amendment.
“The secretary wants to remove the codification of ballot drop boxes,” Rubino said in an email.
Both HB 211 and 219 were also awaiting committee assignments at press time.
Thursday is the last day for bills to be introduced in the Senate while the House has until Jan. 31.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include details about ranked choice voting and special elections. —Ed.