By Michael Illiano
The Sheridan Press
Via Wyoming News Exchange
SHERIDAN — A bill being sponsored by Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, would limit voters’ abilities to change their party affiliation during primary elections.
Wyoming is one of 17 states that allows voters to change their party affiliation at the polls, which has bred concerns about “crossover voting” — when voters change their affiliation for the primary to participate in another party’s election.
Biteman’s bill would prohibit voters from changing their party affiliation between the date candidates can begin filing for the primaries through the date of the primary elections.
Biteman did not respond to a request for comment.
Several high-profile Republicans have criticized crossover voting, most notably Foster Friess, who finished second to Governor-elect Mark Gordon in August’s Republican gubernatorial primary.
Friess has framed crossover voting as a concerted Democratic effort to undermine Republican primaries and has pointed to groups that encouraged the practice during the primary elections, such as “Switch for Wyoming.”
The impact of crossover voting on the latest primary election appears to be limited, however.
A report released by the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office in November showed 12,509 voters — out of the 140,070 voters who participated in the election statewide — changed their party affiliation between July 6, when early voting began for the August primaries, and Sept. 20. Of those, 6,057 were Democrats who changed their affiliation to Republican; 4,335 were unaffiliated voters who registered Republican; 744 unaffiliated voters registered Democrat; 430 voters changed their affiliation from Republican to Democrat; and 296 voters dropped their parties and became unaffiliated.
In Sheridan County, 716 voters, of the 8,882 local primary voters, changed their party affiliation during the time frame the Secretary of State’s office analyzed.
Three-hundred thirty-one Sheridan County voters changed their affiliation from Democrat to Republican during that period and 227 county residents changed their registration from unaffiliated to Republican; 18 Republicans switched their affiliation to Democrat and 27 unaffiliated voters registered as Democrats.
Sheridan County Republican Party Chairman Brian Miller has also been critical of crossover voting and said he believes the practice was more common than those numbers indicate.
Miller said he was conducting his own analysis of voter records and believed more voters had switched party affiliation outside of the window covered in the Secretary of State’s report on the issue.
The state Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee considered the concerns surrounding crossover voting during its interim meetings and chose not to pursue reforms, indicating that changing party affiliation rules could create legal complications.
Biteman’s bill will be considered during the upcoming Wyoming legislative session, which will convene Jan. 8.