- Associated Press - Thursday, February 16, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The commonplace Wyoming voter tradition of changing party affiliation at the polls on primary day will live on after a legislative committee killed a bill Thursday that would have made it more difficult for Democrats to vote in Republican primaries and vice versa.

Wyoming doesn’t allow cross-party voting on primary day, but voters may switch parties moments before voting. Under the proposal, voters would have been allowed to switch no fewer than 30 days before primary day.

The bill made it through the Wyoming House before dying on a 3-0 vote in the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

Political parties are private organizations and members only should decide which candidates will represent the parties in the general election, Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Matt Micheli, told the committee in support of the bill.

“The party believes that it’s only fair that people who belong to that organization are the ones that cast a vote for that organization,” Micheli told the three Republican committee members who nonetheless voted against the bill.

The chairman of the Laramie County Republican Party, freshman Rep. Jared Olson, of Cheyenne, co-sponsored the bill and also testified in its support.

The existing law is a good one because it encourages people to vote for individuals instead of political parties, countered Marguerite Herman with the League of Women Voters.

“It’s unclear frankly what problem this is trying to solve,” Herman said. “If it doesn’t serve a purpose, I would say it’s not a good idea.”

Because Wyoming is heavily Republican, many elections are in essence decided by votes cast in the GOP primary in August rather than the general election in November. A Democrat hasn’t run a close race for major office in Wyoming since Gov. Dave Freudenthal won in 2002 and 2006.

People who otherwise would vote as Democrats often switch in order to vote in the often hotly contested Republican primary races. But the phenomenon could work the other way, too, resulting in Republicans deliberately voting for a weak Democratic candidate, Micheli said.

But sometimes Democrats who vote as Republicans eventually decide they’re Republicans after all and permanently change affiliation, said committee member Charles Scott, R-Casper.

“It’s an evolving process,” Scott said. “The ability to switch back and forth has sure helped our ability to recruit new Republicans.”


Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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