For years, Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester) saw the Legislature defeat the “crossover” voting ban his party expected him to deliver. So, with the bill on the verge of victory this session, and some fellow Republicans still correctly calling it unconstitutional and a threat to democracy, he exploded.


“It’s been probably the most vetted bill this body has ever seen,” Biteman said of preventing Wyoming voters from choosing their party on primary day. “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.”

A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but these bills have been thrown in the trash year after year only to be revived. 

I would have preferred shredding the bill, burning it and throwing the ashes out at sea, but I suppose it would have only delayed the inevitable: Biteman and his cronies would somehow tape the bill back together and assign it to a friendly committee.

Gov. Mark Gordon allowed House Bill 103 – Political party affiliation and changes to become law without his signature, a good indication of how bad this stink bomb really is. He knew the House and Senate would override a veto, and he didn’t want to put his name on a law that’s certain to be challenged in court.

The new law bars voters from changing party affiliation during the 96 days before a primary. The May 1 party-declaration deadline now comes before the candidate filing deadline, meaning voters must choose their party without even knowing who the candidates are.

The governor told the Legislature he didn’t sign HB 103 because “it adds uncertainty to the voting process.”

Translation: When people try to vote in the next primary election and thousands aren’t given a ballot of the party they want, don’t blame me.

Gordon wanted assurance from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), that new voters who have not chosen a party will be able to register for the primary. Haroldson said that’s his intention, which apparently is all the governor needed to hear. But there’s nothing in HB 103 that says that will happen.

Gordon’s response is peculiar given his role in his party’s battle against crossover voting. In the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary, Gordon, the more moderate candidate, defeated conservatives Foster Friess and Harriet Hageman. 

The Wyoming Republican Party’s extreme-right leadership blamed the outcome on Democrats who switched party affiliation to vote for Gordon — despite the fact that the number of crossover voters was smaller than Gordon’s margin of victory.

A crossover voting ban has been the GOP’s top legislative priority ever since. In 2019, Biteman filed a bill that was promptly killed by the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

The next day Chairman Bill Landen (R-Casper) changed his mind and ordered another vote. But Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) switched to the other side, so the bill still died.

Within days Senate leadership allowed Biteman to file the same bill again, this time assigning it to the reliably right-wing Senate Agriculture Committee, which rubber-stamped it. The Senate overwhelmingly passed this “zombie bill” and sent it to the House.

But the subterfuge didn’t work. A House committee killed it. The hijinx have continued each year since, always with the same outcome, until now.

The January session began with Biteman’s latest attempt killed by the same committee that stuck a fork in his 2019 bill. That left HB 103 as the crossover ban’s last chance.

The bill cruised through the House, but was “killed” by Senate Corporations. That didn’t matter — the zombie was revived and sent to the Senate Revenue Committee, which loved it.  

The Senate approved HB 103 nearly 2-to-1. It survived 12 hostile amendment attempts. That’s typically a sign that a bill isn’t ready for prime time, but Biteman and other backers would not be denied no matter how well-reasoned the opposition’s arguments were.

In one of the session’s best debates, opponents threw everything they had at the bill. The charge was led by Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), a fiscal conservative with libertarian social views who was censured twice by his party last year.

“Leadership of the majority party often is disappointed when someone that is not adhering to the litmus test squeezes through the primary,” Case said. “Lo and behold, someone might come out that’s a little bit more moderate.”

Senate President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) co-sponsored HB 103 and ultimately voted for it, but was definitely upset. You can always tell because he apologizes for being angry, then let’s loose about why.

“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and it doesn’t make it right … I don’t think this bill does at all what the intent is,” Driskill said. “You’ve heard the old saying about the camel having its nose under the tent? Well folks, you’re about to let a herd of RINOs in.”

“Everyone will become, no matter what their ideology, a Republican,” predicted Sen. Stephan Pappas (R-Cheyenne). “I don’t think that’s what the Republican Party wants. I don’t think it’s what other parties want either, but we’re forcing their hand.”

Several senators said people want to participate in the Republican primary elections because with so few Democrats running, the GOP ballot is where races are decided. 

The nefarious “meddling” in Republican politics alleged by Biteman will not be changed by a crossover ban. Pappas is right; if for nothing more than convenience, Democrats will stay registered Republicans. The same people the GOP fears will continue to vote in Republican primaries. So what’s the point?

Case offered an amendment to reduce the “blackout” period when voters can’t change party affiliation from 96 days to 45 days, when absentee ballots are available. It was shot down, along with an effort by Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) to allow Democrats to opt-out of the process.

“Make no mistake — [in HB 103] we’re trying to keep certain people from voting in elections that are important to them,” Rothfuss said. “We call it meddling, we call it crossover. We have terms and euphemisms; we have concepts of how this is bad and evil behavior. There’s no evil, there’s no mischief, it’s just democracy.”

Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson), the only other Democrat in the chamber, asked the 29 Republicans, “Who is this bill aimed at? The two of us? I don’t think so.”

Gierau said the bill is Republican leaders “telling your party who you’re going to vote for, who you’re going to see on the ballot,” he said. “You’re not going to know who they are before you have a chance to vote for them, but by golly you’re going to vote for the people we say.” 

Of course, the GOP has always been welcome to hold its own primary, by its own rules, without a legislative “fix.” They’d simply have to spend the roughly $1 million it takes to put on the contest each cycle, instead of letting taxpayers pick-up the tab. Apparently, however, they’re not so opposed to government funding when the party is the beneficiary. 

In the end, though, this isn’t about ideology, it’s about the corrupting influence of power. The GOP holds 86 of Wyoming’s 93 legislative seats — the largest supermajority in the country — all five state-wide elected offices and the entirety of our federal delegation and now it is requiring voters to choose sides without knowing its candidates. If anyone has a better example of the dangers of concentrated power, please let me know.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. As I’ve said elsewhere, this is egregiously unconstitutional. Both the US and Wyoming Constitutions guarantee citizens the right to freedom of association. We are free to associate with, not to associate with, or change our minds about associating with any person or group at any time. Those who reach voting age during an election year also have the right to vote, and both state and Federal law prohibit denying it. I’d be glad to serve as a plaintiff in a lawsuit to overturn this.

    In the meantime, as the author of the article and many commenters below write, Wyomingites will simply register as Republicans full time and work to drag the party back from extremism. Other parties, including the Democrats, can accommodate their supporters by moving to caucuses, in which they ignore “official” registration, to choose their candidates. Ironically, this will give the supporters of those other parties MORE of a voice, rather than less, because they can participate in both the Republican primary and the other parties’ caucuses. And so, the scheme will backfire until we either return to the previous system or move to one like Alaska’s, with open, “jungle” primaries.

  2. One of the “solutions” to the problem is to repeal WY Statute Title 22-4 Major Political Parties. This Statute has long outlived it’s original intent or usefulness. A vast majority of Wyoming citizens have no understanding of the process nor do they participate in it. There are large numbers of “committeemen” and “committeewomen” seats, which by WY Statute are elected offices, left unfilled in the county central committees for both the Democratic and Republican parties. These open seats are oftentimes filled via appointment by the already seated committee members. Thus the method whereby we have seen the “party pure” arise to super power. Despite this process of the “appointed anointed” there are still large numbers of open committee seats.
    The system is not functioning and we would be better served to have the two “major parties”, Republicans and Democrats, lose their major party status in Wyoming and function as do the “minor parties” – Libertarians, Constitutional, etc. A move so bold in the Legislature to repeal the major party Statutes would take a bit of political courage, though, of which sadly, we will probably never see – the courage or the repeal. The system has outlived it’s usefulness and is broken. We can only hope for the courage to fix it someday after we have learned some upcoming hard lessons.

  3. Its a party first bill. The GOP is afraid of an electorate that can think, make judgements and decide who should sit in government.
    Party first legislation is not what WY needs politically. It will render the state even further behind. If I register to vote in advance of knowing who the candidates are, how do I vote if the candidate pool I have to choose from are Mickey mouse, Donald duck, and Superman.

  4. You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows. Any Democrat who has given it a moment’s thought knows that the only way to have any influence on Wyoming politics is to vote in the Republican primary and have already switched their registration. I did so years ago.

  5. To Wyoming GOP,
    “better be careful for what you ask for!”
    “closed the barn door after the horse bolted?”
    “Sometimes you just have to play the role of a fool (D/I) to fool the fool (GOP) who thinks they (GOP) are fooling you (D/I).”
    “Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when group’s need for consensus supersedes the judgment of individual group members.”

  6. The D’s and I’s need to get registered as R’s go to all of the party meetings at the local level get control the get control at the state level. As we subvert the Big R we can gain power. It’s the best way forward.

  7. A wonder how much time, effort and money was wasted on this worthless bill………………it is really meaningless!!!!!
    I changed my voting status to vote for a true American hero. Someone who was not afraid to stand up against the Ex president. I will just keep my status the same. I can then vote for the least whacko of the Republican Party.

  8. Register and remain a Republican, so your voice can be heard. It feels dirty, but there is no other way. They know their days are numbered and the only way they can win is to claim that they were cheated and try to stop Democrats from voting. Don’t let it happen. Democracy is at stake.

  9. Another good column.
    One thing to add is the impetus (aided by this crossover myth) for open primaries. What would voters do with a ballot initiative that restored their ability to fully exercise their franchise with a primary ballot that presented all candidates?

    1. The voters would pass the initiative by a large margin and first session after passage it would be repealed by the Legislature.

  10. Well this no longer is about party, it makes all those who crossed over members of the party and guess what, they will stay. Whether independent or Democrat, their party affiliation means nothing now. They will vote as Republicans and will likely help take the party back from the far right. So perhaps this is a bravo and something that will come back to haunt the morons like Chuck Gray who think they have a victory. This smells. It will be challenged. Not only in the courts but at the ballot box.

  11. Thank you Kerry. As a member of an endangered species in Wyoming, a democrat, I’ve often wondered what the Republicans were so were about with crossover voting given the declining power of the democratic party in this near totally red state. Now I understand. It’s not about dems influencing a vote, it’s about keeping the repubs own voters in line with the “annointed” ones.

  12. Curious when this goes to court, if the legal counsel for the State of Wyoming will take “the Fifth” when asked, what is the purpose for the early registration requirement? Nellie Ross, the first U.S. female governor would be ashamed and embarrassed of these imposters of the so called “Equality State.” Governor Gordon knew where this was going, “No Where!” I would like to thank the Republican legislators that were opposed to this, you voted with your conscience and intelligence, not some elementary school bully mentality!

  13. Do I change my voter registration to independent or do I de-register to vote so that I can choose the primary in which I want to vote?

  14. The GOP will see an infusion of brighter, less whiny people. Maybe there will be enough to help.

  15. Hi Kerry Drake,
    My wife and I, lifetime Democrats, switched to the Republican party to vote for Liz Cheney. We are now Republicans. It will be fun voting for liberal Republicans in future primaries.
    Cornelius F. Kelly

  16. Well said. I need to find and purchase a “RINO in Name Only” lawn sign. I will proudly plant it front and center. This law shows how afraid the Wyoming GOP is of independent thought and action on the part of Wyoming citizens. Sad.

  17. This is another example of main stream republicans allowing the minority to to set the bar. And do you know what? I’ve had it. The apathy of the majority is allowing the extremists to run the state. They moan and groan, but they don’t get involved on the precinct level and take back their party. Maybe they need to hit rock bottom before they wake up and recover.

    1. They hit “rock bottom” a long time ago. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be a republican- until now.

    2. Barbara, I think this is happening all over the country. Margie Greene is not representative of the Republicans I know in other states, yet they remain complacent and only care if Republicans win the elections. Moderate, sensible Republicans (if there are any left) aren’t going to be happy when they wake up to find that their rights are gone and the country is a theocracy.