By Victoria Eavis
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — A bill to end the practice of crossover voting is headed to the House after lengthy debate about what it means to be a Republican in Wyoming today.
Senate File 97, sponsored by Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, would end same-day party affiliation change in Wyoming. If the measure becomes law, changes in party affiliation would not be allowed in roughly the three months prior to a primary. Backers want to prevent Democrats and independents from changing their registration on election day in order to vote in Republican primaries, a practice known as crossover voting.
This change would mean voters might not necessarily know who the candidates in their respective primaries are at the time they register. Instead, they would be beholden to their party when it comes to participating in a primary election.
A crossover voting ban is not a new effort in Wyoming politics, as Biteman has brought this bill multiple times before. But this year’s debate has taken on new significance. Former President Donald Trump is backing the measure as a way to increase the likelihood of unseating Rep. Liz Cheney, whose criticism of the president is likely to attract support from moderates and Democrats.
The Wyoming Republican Party has backed it, as did the late influential GOP mega donor Foster Friess. Supporters of the bill say the practice of crossover voting has resulted in moderate Republicans succeeding over their more conservative counterparts in crowded primaries, even though the state is deeply red.
Opponents of the bill, including multiple lawmakers and a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters, have pointed out that the bill would require voters to register with a party before knowing who the candidates are in the upcoming race. A voter couldn’t decide at the polls which primary they would prefer to participate in.
“That’s the point,” Biteman said. “That’s the exact practice I’m trying to stop. I don’t think it’s fair.”
For Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, that reality worked against his view of what it means to be a Republican.
“[The Republican Party] used to stand for things like freedom, like limited government, like personal responsibility,” he said. “Now the way this bill is put together … folks will have to decide where they are gonna be in the pen, in the limited size tent on or before the first day the of the filing period for candidates.”
But in Wyoming, Republican leaders have begun to question the idea of the “big tent” party, which has long been associated with the GOP.
“In Wyoming, we don’t necessarily embrace the idea of a big tent,” Wyoming GOP chairman Frank Eathorne said in a Fox News interview.
Proponents repeatedly clarified the bill would not stop anyone from casting a ballot: voters would just be locked in to a certain party on primary day.
Last week, Trump issued a statement in support of the measure.
“This critically important bill ensures that the voters in each party will separately choose their nominees for the General Election, which is how it should be!,” he wrote.