In last week’s primary election, Wyoming voters turned out in record numbers. Figures from the Secretary of State’s office show 140,070 Wyomingites cast ballots. This kind of engagement is important for the entire state, regardless of the outcomes of the election, and we should be proud.
But there are some who are more concerned with how people are voting than how many.
Party crossover is a long-standing practice in Wyoming, where the Republican Party is dominant. Democrats – outnumbered and underrepresented – will change their party affiliations in the primary to vote on the Republican ballot, especially when the GOP primary is highly contested among more conservative candidates.
Foster Friess, who lost the GOP gubernatorial primary by about 9,000 votes to the more moderate Mark Gordon, has suggested that the practice is really just an example of Democrats interfering in Wyoming elections, and should be banned up to 25 days prior to the election.
We cannot condemn this idea harshly enough.
The purpose of democratic elections is to find the representatives in any community who will represent the many, and not the few. When Democrats in Wyoming vote in the primary, they do so for the same reasons as their Republican neighbors – to ensure that whomever leads our state for the next four years will best represent them.
If they feel that their vote carries more weight on the Republican ballot, then they should be able to cast it without obstacle.
Their motives weren’t nefarious – they were honest. Being a Democrat in a red state means compromising on your expectations.
And at the core of a democratic election should be compromise, not exclusion.
If Democrats are banned from switching their party affiliation for the primary elections, some may be disinclined to vote at all. Any legislative efforts surrounding our voting system should be centered on increasing engagement, not diminishing it. After all, our voting age population is somewhere around 450,000 people. So while 140,000 voters in this primary is great, we should be promoting even more civic engagement.
The candidates who lost the GOP gubernatorial primary can continue to blame the Democrats who might have watered down the Republican vote; or, they can reflect on how one-sided politics can alienate the many moderates in both parties who call Wyoming home.
If state lawmakers bring a bill this session to impose voting restrictions on primary elections, as they have in the past, we encourage the Legislature at large to oppose it. It is the right of every single Wyomingite to have an equal voice in our elections, regardless of their party.