OP-ED Highlight: Election Reform should not be taken lightly

Let’s talk about election integrity.

This year, our Wyoming Legislature introduced more than two dozen election-related bills, nearly 8% of the total number of bills introduced this session. Based on this volume alone, one might presume that the credibility or security of Wyoming’s election system is in doubt.

That presumption would be wrong.

In fact, 94% of Wyoming voters felt confident that their vote would be counted correctly in 2022 according to a University of Wyoming poll. Nationwide data shows that voters’ confidence in elections in 2022 is better than it was in 2008 or 2020.

After serving as an election judge in Lincoln County during the 2022 general election, I can confirm that our elections are smooth and transparent. Reliable checks and balances ensure their security. I have worked closely with many of the state’s county clerks and can attest to their professionalism and their dedication to free and fair elections.

Unfortunately, when it comes to elections and creating policies to increase voter confidence and make voting more efficient, emotion appears to be more important than facts. Voter perception of election integrity, as it turns out, correlates directly with the success or failure of one’s preferred candidate.

In other words, folks are more likely to question an election’s integrity when their candidate loses but more likely to feel confident when their candidate wins regardless of any hint of fraud or inconsistencies.

When the Legislature adjourned last spring, its leadership directed the Joint Interim Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee to study “ranked-choice voting,” also known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). After hours of study, expert testimony, and discussion, the interim committee wrote and endorsed a bill introduced in this year’s Legislature as House Bill 49 — Municipal nonpartisan rank choice elections. The measure gave local governments the choice to conduct non-partisan races with IRV.

The interim committee backed the municipal option IRV bill for several reasons including the cost savings it promises by eliminating runoff elections, permissive language that gave control to local jurisdictions, and success with IRV in other states, particularly Utah.

In January, Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray penned an op-ed attacking HB49 and actively lobbied against the bill. Sec. Gray made a number of claims about IRV, its adoption, and its use in other states that are simply wrong. For example, he asserted that IRV delayed vote counting in Alaska by two weeks. Alaska has historically waited two weeks to release election results to allow absentee ballots from hard to access villages and towns to be delivered by mail; it has nothing to do with IRV.

Secretary Gray’s opposition and that of others carried the day. The House Corporations committee failed to pass the bill on a 3-6 vote on Jan. 20.

The ESPC supports IRV in general and supported HB49 in particular. This simple voting method ensures that victorious candidates win with more than 50 percent of the vote. Wyoming has seen many primary elections won with far less than half the vote.

Other bills before the Legislature will burden Wyoming voters if enacted. There are bills that address runoff elections, ballot harvesting, absentee ballots, and many others.

Four different bills were introduced to address crossover voting. In 1993, Wyoming agreed to allow voters to register on election day to gain an exemption from the Motor Voter Act. In recent years, leaders of the state Republican party have objected, saying it enables Democrats and others to influence the party’s candidate selection. They essentially argue that in Wyoming, Republicans must be members of the GOP for a certain amount of time before they can vote Republican.

A more efficient and cost-effective solution that addresses all of these concerns while maintaining election security is an open primary with a top four IRV general election. This election format, which voters in Maine and Alaska have approved, would prevent the need for a crossover bill, eliminate the cost of a runoff election, and level the playing field for candidates.

Election reform should not be taken lightly. The ESPC supports efforts to strengthen our elections to make them reflect the broad view of Wyoming voters. We look forward to working with Secretary Gray and the 67th State Legislature in that pursuit.

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