Guest editorial: We shouldn't make it harder to participate in the democratic process

File photo

Let’s say sometime next summer you look at the candidates running for office in your hometown. You review the slate of hopefuls and decide that your political party no longer best represents your beliefs. Or perhaps there is a candidate running who you feel is particularly unsuited for the job. So you decide to change your party registration to vote accordingly.

Or you don’t. Because under a new Wyoming law, you must decide which party to support before you know who’s actually running. The law is designed to eliminate crossover voting, the practice in Wyoming of (usually) Democrats changing their party to participate in the Republican primary. But the law goes farther than that. It effectively tells voters: It’s less important who you vote for than the party you support.

The reason for that is simple. The authors of the crossover voting ban decided you shouldn’t be able to change your party affiliation after the candidate filing period ends. That means you won’t necessarily know who is running before you must decide which camp to join. And that, in turn, means you’re really deciding which team to root for, rather than seeing what players they have first.

That might not be a huge problem for voters who are hard right or hard left. Those voters aren’t likely to flip, except in rare circumstances like last year’s historic — and incredibly unusual — Wyoming House race between Liz Cheney and Harriet Hageman. But voters whose views are more moderate may indeed decide that one slate of candidates better represents their beliefs this time around. Now, however, they’ll no longer have the option to change their registration and support those people after the filing period ends.

Crossover voting has long been the scorn of Wyoming’s far right, who believe it’s the reason that our governors have tended to be in the mold of traditional Republicans like Matt Mead and Mark Gordon rather than the more polarizing Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem. But there is scant evidence that crossover voting has done anything but increase participation in our democratic process. In Gordon’s first election, which is often cited as an example of why a ban on crossover voting is needed, his victory over more conservative opponents had more to do with the fact that so many of them split the far-right vote than any left-wing meddling. And if crossover voting was such an effective tool, then why did Cheney get trounced last year, even though Democrats crossed over in record numbers?

The irony, of course, is that the crossover voting ban could serve to simply moderate the GOP — an anathema to the same people who drove the ban into law. It’s likely that many Democrats will simply register and vote Republican from now on, since doing so doesn’t limit their ability to vote blue in the general election, but does allow them to take part in Wyoming’s more contested primary races.

But perhaps the greater concern is that of voter participation. There is no evidence that Wyoming’s election system has fraud, malfeasance or any other integrity issue. None of the politicians pushing these fears have offered any evidence, and all seem to be comfortable with the results of their own elections. But the steps they’ve offered to solve a nonexistent problem, such as banning drop boxes, limiting early voting or restricting when you can change your party, all serve to make it harder for voters to participate in the democratic process.

Voters should ask why this is. Why do certain politicians want to pursue policies that create obstacles to democratic participation? Why aren’t they encouraging a larger and more representative electorate? Perhaps it’s because their true aim isn’t about what’s best for democracy, but what’s best for their own party. And in doing so, they’ve forgotten what their priorities should be. We’re not Republicans and Democrats first. We’re Americans.