Wyoming Study Shows Changeover Voters Don't Change Elections

Wyoming Study Shows Changeover Voters Don’t Change Elections

Written by on February 22, 2022

A new nonpartisan study suggests that even if Wyoming does ban changing party affiliation at the polls, it won’t make much difference in future elections.

One of the most infamous bills on the floor of the 66th Wyoming Legislature is Senate File 97. The bill has been introduced and referred to the Senate Subcommittee on Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions as of Tuesday, Feb. 22.

If passed, Senate File 97 would prevent Wyoming voters from changing their party affiliation on the day of a general election.

The bill specifies that anyone who wishes to change party affiliation would have to do so about three months before or between the primary and general elections.

Foster Friess was a major proponent of this change. The late gubernatorial candidate believed he lost his bid in the 2018 governor’s race because voters deliberately changed their party affiliation to vote against him.

The file got national attention when former President Donald Trump said he supported the bill’s passage. For him, it’s another way to ensure the incumbent U.S. Representative Liz Cheney doesn’t get support from Democrats and loses the upcoming Republican primary.

However, voter analysis of the 2018 Election suggests that the bill’s passage won’t make a difference – because changeover voters don’t make a difference.

Civics 307 is a Wyoming-based nonpartisan blog that provides insight into the workings of the Wyoming State Government for Wyoming residents. Sheridan County resident Gail Symons started the blog after the 2016 election.

During the election, Symons “realized that political campaigns can easily mislead voters who do not have visibility to the actual workings of the Wyoming Legislature.” She hopes citizens will be “more engaged and better served” by her work.

Symons has been studying voter patterns and election returns for years. Her analysis of voter data is well-known among groups working to ensure fair elections in Wyoming.

Firstly, Symons says when most Wyoming voters change their party affiliation, they do it to participate in elections and don’t change it again.

“The overwhelming number of voters change permanently,” Symons said. “They want to participate in Wyoming’s elections. In most precincts in the state, that means engaging with the Republican candidates and voting in the primary.”

Symons points to voter data publicly available from the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office to make her point.

In the 2018 election—the last time Wyomingites voted for the Governor and the other statewide offices—only 6,057 Democrats changed their affiliation to Republican. A greater percentage of Unaffiliated changed to Republican, although it accounted for fewer voters – 4,505.

Governor Mark Gordon won the Republican Primary with 38,951 votes. Foster Friess came in second, with 29,842 votes. There was a difference of 9,962 votes between the two candidates.

Assuming every single voter who changed their affiliation voted for Governor Gordon, the election may have resulted in a victory for Foster Friess. However, that’s assuming every single one of the Democrats and Unaffiliated voters who changed parties voted for Governor Gordon – that’s impossible to know.

Based on this evidence, the total number of voters who changed their affiliation was insufficient to change the 2018 Governor’s race outcome.

Further, of the overall 11,039 voters who changed to Republican, only 668 changed back.

More critical than any affiliation changes is the number of registered voters who did not vote.

There were 62,584 more registered Republicans on Primary Election Day than Republican ballots cast for the same election. That is 35% who did not participate compared to 6% that changed affiliation.

For Symons, election day crossover isn’t the issue in Wyoming elections – non-participation is.

Symons says she will continue her work and analysis for all voters’ benefit and hopefully encourage more participation in future elections.

“Wyomingites want opportunities that will give them more access to secure and fair elections and ways to make sure voter participation stays high, and the winner gets a majority of the votes,” said Symons. “This bill won’t accomplish that, so Civics 307 will continue to work with other nonpartisan partners on solutions that will meet the needs of our state’s voters while supporting the rights of political parties.”

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