By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Some Wyoming Democrats are switching parties to register as Republicans for the upcoming primary election, according to a longtime county clerk, prompting her to urge voters to practice their own form of election integrity.
Incumbent U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, who was censured by her own party in February, is being challenged in the Republican primary election for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat by Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman and others.
Julie Freese, Fremont County’s clerk for 28 years, said she is hearing on-the-ground commentary from traditional Democrats saying they’re registering as Republicans solely to vote for Cheney in the Republican primary.
“We have had people come in recently to change from Democrat to Republican,” Freese told Cowboy State Daily, “and they have told us, ‘I am changing my party to vote for Liz Cheney.’ That’s what they’ve said, flat out.”
Not everyone who makes the switch tells the clerk’s staff why they’re doing it, she added.
“If they aren’t telling us why they’re doing it, it’s private,” Freese said, adding that “a large amount of people… are not telling us why they’re changing.”
Freese said she could not accurately estimate what percentage of crossover voters are making the change to influence the Republican primary.
“But that’s what the frustration is,” she added. “It’s been pretty boldly stated in the last two or three elections (including the current one) that they’re doing it to affect the other party’s race somehow.”
Freese later clarified at a Fremont County Republican central committee meeting that in her duties as a clerk, she wouldn’t interfere with crossover voting because statute allows for it, but as an individual, she disagrees with it.
Party Shift On The Reservation
Every legislative district in Fremont County is predominantly Republican as of this week, which, because of the traditional Democratic leanings of one House district, is an unusual shift.
House District 33 covers the Wind River Indian Reservation, which traditionally votes for Democratic presidential candidates and has elected Democratic state Rep. Andi LeBeau of Ethete, to the Legislature in the last two elections.
Bring Your Best
The primary election “is the time for the two (major political) parties to take their best candidates to the general election,” Freese told Cowboy State Daily.
Freese emphasized that primary elections are designed to be party-specific so true party members on either side can choose the candidate they favor before sending that candidate on to challenge the other party in the general election.
“That’s the crux of the matter,” said Freese. “This is a political party process – and there are some that are playing the politics.”
She clarified that the process of crossing from Democrat to Republican, which is one form of “crossover voting,” is and has been popular in Wyoming for years, for various reasons – some more benign than others.
“It has evolved over the years,” said Freese. “In all my years, (registered Democrats) have said, ‘I don’t have anything on my (primary) ballot, and this is an exciting race.’”
Freese noted that because most Wyoming counties are predominantly Republican, many Democrats receive blank or nearly-blank ballots for the primary election and regret not being able to determine the Republican candidate for a sheriff’s seat, or a county commissioner’s seat, for example.
Because a legislative bill seeking to ban crossover voting in Wyoming failed in the state Legislature this session, the practice remains legal in the state, regardless of the reasons behind it.
Freese told Fremont County Republican central committee members at a Monday meeting that she didn’t have much faith in the practicality of an anti-crossover voting law and would prefer for voters to practice political integrity on their own.
“People are going to find a way to get to where they want to get,” she said, addressing the failed bill. “As soon as they figure out what they can’t do – they’re going to do what they have to, to get to that (desired party).
“In any talks I’ve had,” continued Freese, “I’ve said, this is (the party’s) time to find the best candidate… it’s a process and I realize you want to be involved. Be involved by being one or the other party and maybe stay that way (when the ideology fits).”