One of the best things to come out of the 2016 election cycle in Wyoming was the realization by everyday Republicans and Democrats that they really don’t get much of a say in choosing their parties’ presidential nominees.
Local discontent culminated in Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, and Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, proposing a bill last month that would have created a special presidential primary election. The election would have taken place in the April of presidential election years and serve the single purpose of giving Wyoming Republicans and Democrats an opportunity to vote on their party’s nominees.
It died in committee; one concern was the expense of the state putting on an extra election every four years.
While House Bill 201 was the wrong solution, it picked the right target.
Both parties’ current presidential selection processes — particularly the Republican Party’s — are inadequate and lawmakers and party officials need to make serious improvements.
The Legislature and party leaders should take the next year or two to study possible changes and come up with something that actually works for the everyday people of this state.
When you read about the Wyoming Republican Party’s candidate selection process in this paper’s news articles, you may see it politely referred to as “complicated” or “multi-layered.” But here on the opinion page, we’ll offer another descriptor: pathetic.
Here’s why: For most local Republicans, their last chance to really weigh in on their party’s nominee came all the way back in the primary election of August 2014. It was then — back when any respectable pollster would have chuckled about Donald Trump’s odds of winning the presidency — that local GOPers elected dozens of little-known party officials called precinct committeemen and women.
Committee people are the ones who carry out the work of the party: helping raise funds, recruiting friends and neighbors, campaigning, lobbying and setting the party’s platform. Every four years, these volunteers also get to weigh in on the Republican nominee at the party’s county convention.
So, last March, nearly two years after they were elected, around 72 precinct committee people and fill-ins gathered for the Park County Republican Party Convention and cast their vote for … an undecided alternate delegate to the national convention. The decision meant next to nothing, not only because the convention goers settled on an undecided delegate, but also because their alternate wasn’t going to get to vote on the Republican Party’s nominee anyway. (Park County gets to pick an actual delegate every other cycle which, in those years, actually gives the county party a very large voice in the national selection process.)
Last year’s county convention-goers did get to pick 30 delegates to the Wyoming Republican Party’s state convention and those delegates — along with several hundred other Republicans from around the state — helped pick 14 delegates for Ted Cruz in April.
So to recap: everyday Park County Republicans elected precinct committeemen in 2014, who picked state convention delegates in 2016 who got to weigh in on some of Wyoming’s national delegates.
It’s a long way of saying that rank-and-file members basically had no say in picking the Republican Party’s nominee.
In 2016, only 72 Park County Republicans were able to cast any kind of vote for president — and only about 30 local Republicans cast a vote that actually mattered at the state convention. Put another way, out of the more than 9,700 county residents who were registered as Republicans at the time, less than 1 percent of them got any kind of direct say.
Things were not as grim on the Democratic side.
Out of around 1,200 locals who were registered as Democrats, 270 of them (or more than 22 percent of them) participated in last April’s Park County Democratic Caucus — and their votes directly determined how many delegates went to each presidential candidate.
That makes a lot more sense, but the Democrats’ process wasn’t without its problems.
For one thing, the process was in effect co-opted by the Wyoming Democratic Party’s four “superdelegates.”
Because those four party leaders decided to back Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders wound up getting only about 39 percent of Wyoming’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention — despite getting more than 55 percent of the vote at party’s caucuses across the state.
You can’t really blame a superdelegate (or a committee person) for voting for whomever they think is best, but you certainly can blame the systems that effectively leave party members voiceless.
It seems to us as though it wouldn’t take much to make things better. For example, Republicans could give a voice to thousands of party members by simply doing something similar to what the Democrats already do.
Further, would it really be so hard for the state parties to put on their own primary election(s)? Shouldn’t it be as easy as checking people in, giving them ballots and then collecting and counting said ballots? If it’s not, perhaps Wyoming lawmakers can do something to make it that easy — and to persuade national party officials to accept the process that the state comes up with.
We urge the Legislature, Republican and Democratic parties and elections officials to start developing a new process that gives Wyomingites a way to really participate in choosing their party’s nominees. If this discussion is put on the back burner, we fear it will be forgotten until another round of frustration hits in four years.
And Wyoming’s Republicans and Democrats deserve better.