The Wyoming Republican Party’s insistence that the state pass new laws to prevent rampant voter fraud is patently absurd.
The conservative Heritage Foundation has tracked such fraud cases nationally since 1982. According to its website, three have occurred in Wyoming in that 39-year timespan, resulting in the convictions of a man, a woman and a married couple.
They were all registered Republicans. None of their efforts threatened to alter the outcome of an election. And none of their crimes would have been prevented by House Bill 75 – Voter fraud prevention, an unnecessary voter ID measure sponsored by Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper).
Forty Republicans in Wyoming’s 60-member House and one-half of the Senate are co-sponsoring the bill. That means HB 75 needs only one more senator’s vote to be approved. I’ve never seen a bill more greased for passage than this one.
I must hand it to Wyoming GOP officials and state legislators — when it comes to tackling nonexistent problems, nobody does it better.
The state Republican Party, led by extreme-right officials, passed a resolution Feb. 6 that would ban any form of mail-in balloting, curb-side voting and ballot-collection drop boxes. The party wants to severely limit absentee voting and prohibit any type of electronic machinery from tabulating votes.
I guess we could give all 23 county clerk offices rock slates, chisels and hammers for the official count — that method worked great for the first Stone Age mayoral race — but even low-tech equipment costs money. With our state’s budget crisis, Republican leaders must find a more fiscally conservative way.
Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, a Republican, knows his party’s pleas to fortify the integrity of Wyoming elections are unnecessary.
“I think most of us would agree that in Wyoming, we do elections the right way. Always have, always will,” Buchanan wrote in a letter to the GOP.
Unlike Colorado and four other states, Wyoming doesn’t mail ballots to all registered voters. But Wyoming has a “no excuses” absentee voting law, so people do not have to offer a reason why they want to cast an absentee ballot.
The state saw a record number of voters in the 2020 general election — evidence of strong voter confidence. More than 278,000 people voted, and nearly half used absentee ballots.
Coupled with the fact that this was achieved during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s nothing short of remarkable.
So what’s driving these shrieking demands for “safer” elections in the state? Chalk it up to the loud but debunked claim by former President Donald Trump that Democrats stole the 2020 election from him. Despite losing the popular vote by more than 7 million and the Electoral College by a 306-232 tally, Trump insists he won by a landslide.
His voter fraud claims in the six states he narrowly lost were tossed out by 60 federal and state courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency called the Nov. 3 election “the most secure in American history.”
Even though voter fraud claims in presidential battleground states were without merit, I can at least see what is motivating Republicans to clamp down on voting there. Sometimes they brazenly don’t even hide their agenda
And bills actually protecting and expanding voter rights in the 2020 election proposed by states? According to Trump and Co., they would be horrible. “They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends” last March.
Wyoming Republican Party leaders ran with that ball after Trump’s loss, even though he captured 70% of the state’s vote.
Wyoming’s congressional delegation is 100% Republican, same goes for the five state elected officials. Eighty-eight — 79 out of 90 state legislators — are Republicans.
That’s as close to a clean sweep as any state will ever get. But apparently it’s not enough for the party’s leaders.
After two failed attempts sponsoring voter ID bills, Gray is virtually assured victory this year with HB 75.
But voter ID laws only have one purpose: Keep would-be voters from impersonating other people. HB 75 wouldn’t have prevented any of the voter fraud cases in Wyoming during the past four decades.
In 2000, Rep. Carolyn Paseneaux, a Casper Republican, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for using a false address at the polls after selling her home in 1997.
A year later, Gary and Leila Blake of Casper pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, fraudulent use of absentee ballots. The Blakes voted absentee because they wanted to go elk hunting on Election Day. To do so, they used the absentee ballots that had been sent to their former Evansville address.
In 2014, David Koch, a Cody radio news director and convicted felon in Alaska, was found guilty of illegally voting in the 2010 and 2012 Wyoming elections. He was sentenced to two to four years in prison. Voter ID would not have stopped him from voting.
Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt studied voter impersonation extensively between 2000-14. He found 31 credible accusations out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.
What voter ID laws actually do is suppress voter turnout. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates such laws reduce voter turnout by 2-3 percentage points. It’s enough of a margin to potentially make a difference in many elections.
Rampant voter fraud in Wyoming is a myth. At an online forum last Thursday, the Equality State Policy Center assembled a panel of voting rights and elections experts whose knowledge can help Wyoming lawmakers make better legislation than the likes of HB 75.
Linda Fritz, Crook County Clerk and president of the Wyoming County Clerks Association, explained why she’s not concerned about voting fraud. There are so many safeguards in place — including secure voting machines and bill transporting processes — that it would be nearly impossible for someone with nefarious intent to meddle in an election, she said.
Are there changes Wyoming can make to expand voters’ rights? Absolutely. Despite the record turnout in 2020, thousands of registered voters still decided against casting ballots.
Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, suggested during the panel that Wyoming adopt automatic voter registration and track registered voters if they change their address through the U.S. Postal Service.
“In a healthy democracy we’re appealing to as many voters as possible … to participate,” Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center for Justice said. “We should really be bringing new people into the fold.
“Rather than appealing to our worst instincts,” he added, “we could be making people feel that their votes do count and welcoming them to the conversation.”
It would seem Wyoming GOP leaders don’t want to have a conversation. Instead, the party of limited government wants to require residents to show a government-approved form of ID or go home without voting. Its officials don’t want residents to be able to vote absentee, even during the nation’s worst health crisis in the past century, but instead would force them to go to the polls and risk illness or death.
I think most people, including Republicans, still believe that when more people vote, it’s better for our democracy. But state GOP officials are more interested in restricting ballot access to people who may pose a threat to their stranglehold on political power.
The Legislature will pass HB 75, but Gov. Mark Gordon doesn’t have to sign it. Meanwhile, the Wyoming GOP’s call to change absentee voter laws should be shot down before legislators turn the party’s hysterical rant into a law.