Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman Joe Barbuto at a party fundraiser in Wilson during the summer of 2019. (Wyoming Democratic Party/Facebook)

The Wyoming Democratic Party criticized lawmakers Thursday for how they redrew legislative district lines during the 2022 budget session. The party denounced the Legislature for prolonging the redistricting process into the late hours of the final day of the session despite having several months to work on the issue.

“Even more disturbing are the concerns that much of it was motivated by lawmakers attempting to pick their own voters, including family members in some cases, instead of focusing on creating districts that made sense and offered fair equal representation,” Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman Joe Barbuto said in a statement.

Despite those concerns, the party said it will not take legal action on behalf of underrepresented voters in Sheridan and Johnson Counties. The party also said it was not aware of others planning any kind of legal action.

Why it matters: The final redistricting map passed by lawmakers put districts in Sheridan and Johnson counties out of “deviation,” which means they fall out of legally permissible district proportions. This violates the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and puts the state at risk of legal challenges by those who are not properly represented.

The Wyoming Democratic Party said they were concerned they lacked legal standing.

“We do not feel that it is the place of the state political party to tell Sheridan County voters what relief, if any, they should seek in this matter,” Nina Hebert, communications director for the Wyoming Democratic Party, said.

Who said what: “There is no reason that legislators should be conducting business behind closed doors,” Hebert said in regard to lawmakers completing much of the redistricting work in caucus and other private meetings during the last week of the session.

What else you should know: While the party will not file a lawsuit, it does plan to pursue other, more long-term action. That includes pushing for an independent commission to handle redistricting when Wyoming will need to do it again in 10 years. The state is required to do so every decade during the first budget session following a completed U.S. census. Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) brought a bill this session to establish such a commission, but it failed an introduction vote.

Next up: Gov. Mark Gordon has yet to sign the bill. Earlier this week, Gordon said he would not sign it until his attorney general had reviewed it. That review has been completed, according to Michael Pearlman, Gordon’s spokesperson. No legal challenges can take place before Gordon takes action on the bill. He has until March 26 to do so.

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. I live and vote Sheridan County. I have followed this re-districting process with some interest. I have been an Election Judge in two Wyoming Counties. I was active in 1990 redistricting when the Legislature had to respond to very tough choices as population shifts across the state but particularly in Johnson, Campbell, and Sheridan Counties. This is a legislature that is in thrall with one faction of a political organization. I have seen the message this decade go from concern about equal representation to supersizing rural votes against those of us in incorporated areas or cities. As a voter, I expect one vote per person. Within the law, the allowable deviation of 5% assure that. We don’t give multi-generational ballots out, nor weighted ballots based on rural addressing, nor family inclusion ballots. This redistricting proposal leaves Sheridan Johnson County voters out of the mandated 5% deviation and a weird pigtail running down a county road to satisfy a Big Horn Basin legislator family? Both Senators Kinskey and Biteman with Rep. Crago, from Sheridan and Johnson Counties, have mad no bones about amping up rural votes over voters in the incorporated areas.