SHERIDAN — Since polls closed for last week’s primary elections, several Republicans across the state, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess, have questioned whether Democratic voters changed their party registration to influence Republican primaries.
Sheridan County Republican Party Chairman Bryan Miller said he believes crossover voting affected several races, both in the state and in the county, but did not want to make claims until he had more evidence.
Hollis Hackman, chairman of the Sheridan County Democratic Party, agreed that Democratic voters crossed over during the primary elections but stressed it was not something the party urged voters to do.
Crossover voting is not illegal in Wyoming, which is one of 17 states that allows voters to register, change their party and vote on election days, but Miller and other Republicans are arguing that the practice is being abused to undermine the will of legitimate party members.
Measuring how widespread crossover voting was in the latest election is difficult, however. County Clerk Eda Schunk Thompson and county election supervisor Brenda Kekich said the county does not have a way to pull a list of voters who changed parties just before voting. The Secretary of State’s office, likewise, does not track voters who switch parties.
Both Hackman and Miller said they are comparing voter registration rosters from before the election and on election day to get a sense of how many voters flipped parties, but neither is ready to draw conclusions.
Based on overall registration numbers, the number of registered Democrats in Sheridan County did drop while overall voter registration increased, though not drastically. In April, Sheridan County had a total of 14,895 registered voters, 10,528 of which were Republicans and 2,227 of which were Democrats. In July, when early voting began, overall registration was 14,969 with 10,588 Republicans and 2,272 Democrats.
By Aug. 1, overall registration had increased to 15,090 with 10,727 Republicans and 2,256 Democrats. But on the day of the primary elections, overall registration was 15,256 with 10,926 Republicans and 2,193 Democrats.
The overall numbers, however, are inexact, as voters could technically switch their party, vote and switch back.
At least one group, a Jackson-based organization called “Switch for Wyoming,” encouraged Democratic and independent voters to change their registration to vote for Mark Gordon, the eventual winner of the Republican gubernatorial primary election.
But Miller said several groups encouraged voters to switch that have not been identified, and noted that several members of the county Republicans approached him about robo-calls they received that urged Democrats to vote in the Republican primaries.
“I do believe that it impacted the election, I think we’ll be able to show that it impacted the election and I think this Legislature is going to have an opportunity to correct that issue in the future,” Miller said.
Miller said because the primary elections are supposed to be party elections, the parties should be permitted to make the rules around when voters can switch parties and still be eligible to vote. In the past, Miller said the Republicans have proposed a May 1 deadline.
“That was because a lot of people changed once they found out who was running for office,” Miller said. “And that’s exactly our point.”
Though crossover voting has happened in past elections, Miller said it was worse this time around. He believes Democratic voters are working harder to influence Republican elections as part of their opposition to President Donald Trump.
“People are so resistant and hate the president at this point so bad that they believe he is illegitimate and are willing to break the law to resist him,” Miller said.
He said many of the groups encouraging voters to crossover were from outside the state and connected them to a broader movement.
Hackman noted that Democratic races locally and statewide were not expected to be competitive, which could have caused some Democratic voters to switch in order to feel like they were having more of an impact.
In Sheridan County, the only Democratic candidates were Hackman, for the Senate District 21 nomination, and county commission candidate Jay McGinnis, both of whom ran unopposed.
On the state level, Mary Throne faced three opponents for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, none of whom were considered serious challengers; Throne ended up running away with the race with 71 percent of the vote.
Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate and state auditor also ran unopposed, and Laramie Democrat Greg Hunter ended up winning the Democratic nomination for Wyoming’s sole U.S. House seat with 61 percent of the vote.
But Hackman said he, and the party, would prefer Democratic voters work to make the Democratic races more competitive, rather than vote Republican.
“We recruit heavily to get people to run for office and we would prefer that people would, if they want to see more people to vote for, step up and get themselves identified as candidates,” Hackman said. “But it’s a struggle for us; we have a hard time doing that.”
Party officials locally and statewide are still measuring the extent of the practice, but discussions about reforming crossover voting are likely to continue well into the state’s next Legislative session.