Continued efforts among members of Wyoming’s Republican Party to push moderates out of office have become increasingly apparent and have only served to further divide the party that has long dominated state politics.
While Wyoming legislators defeated Sen. Bo Biteman’s Senate File 145, which called for runoff elections following primaries if no candidate received a majority of votes, its death likely won’t mark the end of such efforts.
Primary elections already frustrate state residents, including those not registered as Republicans because they often lose the ability to make their voices heard in partisan races decided in primaries.
Take for example the 2018 Sheridan County elections, where four races — Sheridan County attorney, clerk of district court, treasurer and coroner — were decided in the primaries as all candidates were Republicans.
Some in the GOP would say, “too bad.” If Democrats, Independents or unaffiliated voters want to have a say, more people from those parties should seek public office. Instead, what ends up happening is some voters register as Republicans to have a say in their representation.
According to some members of the state GOP, this dangerously dilutes the party and results in candidates who do not align enough with the state party’s platforms.
This is why, among other reasons, Senate File 145 has not been the only attempt to change the way primaries are conducted and how people vote in Wyoming. Other proposals have included bills aimed at eliminating crossover voting and Rep. Mark Jennings’ House Bill 225, which would have put political parties in charge of conducting primary elections instead of the state or other political subdivisions. That bill never received introduction in the House.
Beyond its divisive nature, attempts to institute runoff elections include a fiscal note unmanageable for government entities already strapped for cash. For such a proposal to come from self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives seems absurd.
While runoff elections could ensure one candidate in the primary races receives the support of a majority of voters, that isn’t the end result such legislation seeks. If it was, open primaries and/or ranked voting could also accomplish that aim, and for significantly less cost. Reducing the number of partisan races would also aid in ensuring a majority of voters support the winning candidate.
But legislation like SF145 represents a fairly transparent attack on moderates — such as U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and Gov. Mark Gordon, who have both faced criticism at times for not toeing the Wyoming GOP party line. The goal isn’t to ensure a candidate receives the majority of support among all Wyoming voters but to amplify the more conservative voices of the state and to make election victories far more difficult for moderate policymakers. All voters’ voices should receive equal attention, not just the loudest.