Northern Wyoming News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy
editor 

Karla's Kolumn: Party affiliation and Wyoming politics

The Wyoming Secretary of State’s office released numbers this week announcing that more than 12,000 people changed their party affiliation this year from July 6 and Sept. 20.

 

October 20, 2018



The Wyoming Secretary of State’s office released numbers this week announcing that more than 12,000 people changed their party affiliation this year from July 6 and Sept. 20.

After the primary election on Aug. 21, governor candidate Foster Friess said the state needed to repeal its law that allows voters to change party affiliation. He said this because of a group that lobbied for Democrats to change their party affiliation and vote Republican for Mark Gordon.

Because of Friess’ comments and the attention it garnered regarding party affiliation changes, the Wyoming Secretary of State Office released the numbers. They have not prepared a similar report in the past but have stated they likely will do so in the future.

With no past figures to compare to, caution must be taken when trying to analyze the figures.

“It is absolutely vital that anyone analyzing these party change numbers understand that these numbers are tied to a person’s voter registration and do not represent total ballots cast in the election, and that these numbers do not indicate for whom a person voted,” said State Election Director Kai Schon.

Kai is correct. We can know how many changed their party affiliation (including over 700 that changed the party affiliation after the election). We cannot and do not know why more than 12,000 people changed their party affiliation and we don’t know if that number is higher or lower than in the past on non-presidential election years.

I would argue that the number may be only slightly higher but that there is still a lot of people who change party affiliation on these non-presidential election years when the top five state elected officials and when county officials are on the ballot.

According to the Secretary of State’s figures, there were 119 voters changing party affiliation in Washakie County, 133 in Hot Springs County and 154 in Big Horn County.

All three counties are predominantly Republican but there are Democrats, Libertarians, Constitution Party and unaffiliated (independents). However, regarding candidates on the ballot, for a primary election, there were not many choices locally for Democrats. Libertarians and Constitution Party voters have to wait until the general election for any of their candidates to be on the ballot and there are fewer candidates in those parties than Democrats in the state.

In Big Horn County, there were 12 Republican candidates for two commission seats. No Democrats had filed, which meant that basically the Republicans were going to decide who the next commissioners were in the county.

This is the same for the Hot Springs County sheriff’s race (five candidates) and county clerk’s (three candidates) race.

To have a say in selecting the next sheriff for the county or the next county clerk, a person needed to vote in the primary election, and they needed to vote Republican.

Those races are over. The candidates selected by the Republicans in the primary are unopposed in next month’s general election.

In Washakie County, the county races were fairly quiet with all but the county commissioners running unopposed, that’s right, you guessed it, on the Republican ticket. The incumbent commissioners had one challenger … another Republican and that race is also done with Commissioner Fred Frandson and Commissioner Terry Wolf unopposed in next month’s general election, along with the other county officials.

In our Republic of the United States we pride ourselves on saying that every vote counts and that voting matters. But in Republican-dominated races and counties, your vote only counts if you vote Republican in most races. It may not be a fact you like, but it is indeed a fact.

Are there some in these counties that may have changed to vote for a Republican candidate in one of the statewide races, including governor? More than likely.

But looking at the figures there is still no way of knowing if they voted for Gordon or not.

There were six Republican candidates for governor. While there were four Democratic candidates, Mary Throne, who won the party nomination by an overwhelming margin, was a presumed shoo-in. Democrats may have wanted to have a say in the Republican race, whether it was voting for Gordon or one of the other candidates.

So we have the figures. We know people changed their party affiliation. Now what? Does Wyoming law need to change? Yes, not the one about changing party affiliation, but rather one that would allow an open primary.

On the party affiliation law, I believe people should have the right to change their party affiliation, not because I think there are going to be attempts to influence elections, but because I have a right to change my mind and get disgusted at the political parties and decide each year what party affiliation I want to declare.

Regarding our current primary system, I believe in Wyoming, and yes, you’ve read it here before, we need an open primary. Voters can register for a party or for those who prefer to be unaffiliated we can declare which ballot we would like — Republican or Democrat.

I had a Republican in Big Horn County tell me, when I discussed the need for an open primary there, that she didn’t want anyone but Republicans selecting her party nominees.

But that’s happening anyway with those of us who change our affiliation when there are important county races on the ballot. We want our voice heard as well and we should have that opportunity. After all it’s not our fault nearly everyone is a Republican in the Big Horn Basin and there is rarely a choice for local county races on the general election ballot.

The Constitution guarantees everyone the right to vote. I should be able to exercise that right no matter my party affiliation.

 
 

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