Last week, the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office answered one of the lingering questions about August’s election: Just how many voters switched their political affiliation to …
Last week, the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office answered one of the lingering questions about August’s election: Just how many voters switched their political affiliation to participate in the Republican primary?
According to the data, a total of 367 people in Park County switched over to the Republican party for the primary. That included 195 “unaffiliated” voters who had not yet joined a party, 155 Democrats, 11 Libertarians and six Constitutionalists who decided to join the GOP.
Assuming that every single one of those people actually voted in the Republican primary, those “switchers” made up not quite 4.8 percent of the 7,721 Republicans who participated in Park County’s election.
Meanwhile, 28 unaffiliated voters joined the Democratic party while 11 Park County Republicans switched over to the Democratic side. That covers switches between early July and late September. County data indicates that the number of people switching from unaffiliated to Republican rose significantly from past years, while the number of converted Democrats was very similar to 2014 and down from 2010.
“Strangely, it is the same people [switching] each year and they just want to have more choices on their ballot,” said Park County Elections Deputy Pat Cole. “There are not a lot of Democrats running in the primary and it makes your ballot seem blank if you are a Democrat.”
While 10 Republicans ran for three available seats on the Park County Commission this year, zero Democrats got into the race. In fact, Democrats — who are outnumbered by registered Republicans nearly 9:1 in Park County — fielded candidates in just three of 16 partisan races across the county.
Meanwhile, for unaffiliated voters living in rural Park County, there was literally nothing for them to vote on in the primary.
When people switch parties, “the way they usually put it is, ‘I want to have a better ballot,’” Cole said.
Party switching became an issue across the state this year during and after a contentious gubernatorial primary on the Republican side.
For example, a campaign called Switch for Wyoming, launched by an independent political action committee, urged Democrats and unaffiliated voters to change their registration and vote for “moderate” State Treasurer Mark Gordon.
Gordon wound up winning the GOP nomination by 9,109 votes over Jackson financier Foster Friess. The day after the election, Friess penned an email to the other four GOP candidates, suggesting they work together to overhaul of Wyoming’s elections system, perhaps by restricting party switching in the 25 days leading up to a primary.
“It seems like the Democrats have figured out this party switch deal to their advantage,” Friess wrote in the message, obtained by WyoFile, also charging that “Democrats have been able to control our elections with putting on a Republican coat.”
According to state data, across all of Wyoming, a total of 6,057 Democrats became Republicans ahead of the primary, along with 4,355 previously unaffiliated voters and 477 others who abandoned the Libertarian or Constitution parties for the GOP.
That’s a total of 10,889 voters who switched to the Republican party this year.
Another 1,620 voters made different changes — including 744 unaffiliated voters and 430 Republicans who went over to the Democratic side.
In releasing the data, State Election Director Kai Schon urged people to not jump to conclusions from the figures.
“It is absolutely vital that anyone analyzing these party change numbers understand that these numbers are tied to a person’s voter registration and do not represent total ballots cast in the election, and that these numbers do not indicate for whom a person voted,” Schon said in a statement.
In an interview shortly after the primary, Gordon not only defended his credentials as a conservative, but disputed the idea that people switched parties just to vote for him.
“There are a lot of people that are on the ballot, so the assumption that the only reason that anybody would have switched over was for some mythical idea that I’m the most moderate candidates is a big presumption,” Gordon told host Glenn Woods on the Cheyenne radio station KGAB; for example, Gordon noted that his home county of Johnson County had a five-way race for sheriff on the Republican side of the ballot.
Gordon told KGAB’s listeners that, if he becomes governor, and the Legislature passes a bill to ban party switches on Election Day, he’d sign it. However, “let’s not try to restrict people from their opportunity to vote,” he added.