Wyoming's elections will look different this year. Here's what voters need to know.

How and when Wyoming residents can vote will look different this year. 

Two election laws related to political party affiliation and absentee voting were added to the books in 2023, making the August primaries the first major election affected by the new regulations. 

Under the new rules, May 15 is the last day registered voters can change their political party affiliation. The affiliation associated with a voter’s registration determines which primaries — either Republican or Democratic — they are entitled to vote in. Previously voters could change their party affiliation at the polls on Election Day, and many are accustomed to doing so. Qualified voters who are not yet registered will still be able to register and choose their party the day of.  

Meanwhile, the window for absentee voting — also known as early voting — is shorter than before for most voters. The previous 45-day time frame was reduced to 28 days.

Local election officials across the state have been trying to get the word out, but most are working with limited resources. When lawmakers passed the new regulations in 2023, funding for additional voter education was not included in either bill.  

“We had hoped for a more robust educational component,” Malcolm Ervin, Platte County clerk and president of the County Clerks’ Association of Wyoming, told WyoFile. 

“Due to funding, and not having a statewide approach, each county is taking it on their own in order to really educate their voters in a way that they see fit.” 

Laramie County, for example, held a voter registration pop-up event last month at the library in Cheyenne. Clerks in smaller counties, like Ervin, have met with volunteer groups like the Kiwanis or Lions Club to get them to help inform the public.

While different counties are taking different approaches, Ervin said their shared goal is to prevent voters from having to be turned away, but to also mitigate conflict in the event that occurs.

“For those that disagree with the policy decision, I beg for them to remember that it’s not our [election] judges that made that policy decision,” Ervin said. “They’re just the ones carrying out the will of the policymakers.”

The state’s top election official says his office is gearing up to also inform voters. 

“As the 2024 election cycle begins, our office is engaging in a voter awareness and education campaign according to what our budget allows and similar in size and scope of previous administrations,” Secretary of State Chuck Gray told WyoFile in an emailed statement. 

Gray also pointed to key election dates provided on his office’s website, press releases dating back to the legislation’s passage and op-eds.

Party affiliation changes 

For years, Republican lawmakers sought to limit so-called crossover voting — the practice of changing party affiliation in order to vote for a certain candidate. In Republican-dominated Wyoming, this most often occurs when left-leaning voters change their party so they can participate in GOP contests. The practice received greater scrutiny amid the high-profile 2022 congressional race between then-Rep. Liz Cheney and attorney Harriet Hageman, who ultimately triumphed.

The ninth time was the charm for crossover voting critics. In 2023, the legislation was enacted without Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature after rising from the dead and passing both chambers. 

Supporters said it was necessary to stop registered Democrats, minor party and unaffiliated voters from influencing primary election as Republicans. 

Voters are now prohibited from changing party affiliation during the 96 days leading up to the primary election. The law lines up with the candidate filing period, and opponents have criticized the regulation for effectively forcing voters to choose a party before even knowing the slate of candidates. 

This year, the deadline falls on May 15. 

The restriction will not apply to new voters registering after that deadline, such as someone who has turned 18 after May 15, according to the secretary of state’s office. It would also not apply to voters who cancel their registration ahead of the deadline and then re-registers sometime after May 15. 

“Where we should be targeting our education are the unaffiliated and the minor party voters,” Ervin said. “Because in years past, they were accustomed to going to the polls on Election Day and being able to change the registration and get a ballot based on whatever candidates they wanted to vote for.”

During the legislative session, Rep. Karlee Provenza (D-Laramie) brought an amendment to the budget bill to allocate $3,000 to each county clerk “for purposes of voter education regarding new voter registration laws.” 

While the House adopted the amendment, it was ultimately left out of the final budget bill. That said, the funding would not have been available until July, when the new fiscal budget goes into effect. 

Still, Provenza said she’s concerned that voters will be turned away because lawmakers kept them in the dark. 

“I think it’s dishonest of the state Legislature to change the laws in such a way and then not do its due diligence to ensure that hard-working community members know that that law has changed,” Provenza said. 

“People have lives. They’re busy. They can’t track everything that we do. And it’s really unfortunate that we aren’t being more transparent about what we’ve done.”

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), who was the main sponsor of the crossover-voting ban bill, did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment. 

Even if the clerks had a robust education campaign, Ervin said, it still wouldn’t completely rule out someone “not getting the message.”

“The good news is, I do feel like there’s been enough conversation around the state that I do think large swaths — of at least the major parties — are aware,” Ervin said. “It’s that unaffiliated and minor party voters that I see there being more of an issue.”

Absentee ballots

While the crossover-voting ban has commanded a lot of headlines, Ervin said the absentee ballot changes may actually be a bigger, more impactful change for voters. 

In Wyoming, absentee ballots are used for both mail-in voting and early in-person voting. In 2023, lawmakers voted to shorten the absentee ballot window from 45 days ahead of an election to 28 days. 

There is one exception to the restriction. Wyoming residents who live outside the United States, such as those who are serving in the military, are exempt under federal law. 

But the change in timeline will mean voters need to be more prompt, Ervin said. That may be that much more important with the U.S. Postal Service’s proposal to move Wyoming’s mail processing out of state. 

“If you’re requesting [your ballot] by mail or returning it by mail, make sure you do so quickly,” Ervin said. “Quicker than you’ve had to in the past.” 

After mailing their ballot, voters can always contact their county clerk to verify it’s been received, Ervin added. 

Absentee voting begins July 5 for those that qualify for the out-of-country exemption. For all other voters, it will begin July 23. Absentee ballots may be requested at any time in 2024. 

The primary election is Aug. 20 and the general election is Nov. 5.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

 

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