The News Editorial: Change in Party bill solves nothing, hinders voters
February 24, 2022
The primary election is six months away but work to impact who can vote in that election is underway in the Wyoming State Legislature with Senate File 97 – Change in Party Affiliation.
The bill, similar to ones that have been filed in previous years since the 2018 governor election, would limit the timeframe when a person could change party affiliation. Currently you can change party affiliation at any time including on the day of the election.
The bill, if approved would only allow an “elector” or qualified voter to change party affiliation no later than the first day “on which an application for nomination may be filed.”
This year the candidate filing period begins May 12, which would mean anyone wanting to change party affiliation would have to do so prior to or on May 12.
As written, SF97 would become effective in time for this year’s election.
In 2018 there were claims that many Democrats changed party affiliation in order to vote in the primary for Mark Gordon, giving him the Republican nomination over other candidates including Harriet Hageman and Foster Friess (who passed away last year).
According to a press release from Gail Symons, founder of Civics 307 who has been studying voter patterns for years, “The overwhelming number of voters change permanently.”
In other words the majority of those Democrats who changed party affiliation, have not changed back to the Democratic Party.
According to Symons’ data, “In the 2018 election—the last time Wyomingites voted for the Governor and the other statewide offices—only 6,057 Democrats changed their affiliation to Republican. While fewer in numbers at 4,505, a greater percentage of Unaffiliated changed to Republican. The total was insufficient to change the outcome of the Governor’s race which initiated the data review. Further, of the overall 11,039 who changed to Republican, only 668 changed back.”
Many unaffiliated voters change party affiliation in the primary (and I used to be one) to Republican because, as is found in the Big Horn Basin, the majority of the races are determined in the primary. For many partisan races there are no Democratic candidates so there is only the Republican nominee on the ballot in the general election.
To be able to have your voice heard through voting, with Wyoming being dominated by Republicans in most counties, you will see a change in party affiliation.
Some don’t change back because they know in two years they will have to change again and it is easier to stay Republican, if only in name only in order to vote in the primary election.
More than change in affiliation impacting the 2018 election, Symons said there was poor voter turnout by Republicans with 35% registered Republicans not casting a vote in the 2018 primary.
If a party is unhappy with their nominee then they should look at answers within their own party and not limit the ability of voters in the state to cast a vote for the candidate of their choosing.
Rep. Mike Yin (D-Teton County, HD16) filed a bill that would have allowed any voter to vote for any candidate in the primary election, essentially an open primary. The bill was not considered for introduction this session.
Yin understands the dominance of the Republican party and the uniqueness of most counties in Wyoming where the primary election is the election and everyone should be allowed to vote on who will represent them in county government or even state legislature.
Some states have an open primary where a voter can go and seek whichever party ballot he or she chooses. Yin’s bill would have eliminated the party affiliation from the offices that people were voting to fill.
His bill would have likely solved the perceived problem that the party nominee must receive a majority of the vote or there would be a runoff.
Letting people vote for the most qualified regardless of party affiliation should be the goal for any state.
I understand some people vote party lines regardless of the quality of the candidate. Those people will not change.
For some of us, who prefer not to claim an official party, to be unaffiliated, we want our one vote to be counted and heard as well.
Senate File 97 hinders that ability and it is my hope that the Legislature defeats the bill this session.