Ninety-four percent of people who voted in this month’s primary election in Wyoming were registered Republicans, state legislators heard this month.
The statistic came from the Equality State Policy Center, whose executive director Jennifer Lowe said that, with such a large percentage of voters filling out Republican tickets, “we essentially had an open primary here in Wyoming.”
Lowe spoke with the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee this month, proposing that the state should officially consider moving to an open primary election.
The top four vote-getters from the primary could then move on to the general election, which could be decided through ranked-choice voting, Lowe said.
Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, liked the idea, agreeing with Lowe that “we actually do kind of have an almost open primary now.”
“Ninety-four percent of people that are registered are in one party, (so) pretty much if you’re going to be in the game you’ve got to be in that party – in the 94 percent,” he said. “(We could) just open it up the rest of the way so you can process everybody at the same time, and then … the top four go forward and settle it with ranked choice.
“I can live with that.”
He later made a motion to draft a bill that would allow such a system in Wyoming.
The proposal initially failed but was later revived by Wyoming Rep. Marshall Burt, L-Green River, who asked that it be reconsidered so he could change his vote to “ay.”
“I think we can work (with this),” Burt said. “(We can) clean it up.”
The proposal was approved in the second vote.
State elections director Kai Schon said it would cost about $864,000 to implement ranked-choice voting in Wyoming.
The move would also require an ongoing expense of $10,000 per county per election, he said.
For comparison, Schon said a runoff primary would cost about $1 million to implement.
Case called the runoff proposal “the worst idea” because it tends to result in a decrease in voter participation.
By contrast, an open primary tends to increase voter engagement and candidate competition, according to Jeremy Gruber, senior vice president of Open Primaries.
He pointed out that 60 percent of Wyoming’s general election races were uncontested in 2020.
“That’s not good for anybody,” Gruber said. “That’s not choice, and that’s not meaningful voting.”
With open primaries, Gruber said, “uncontested elections almost go completely away.”
“Every state that has utilized a nonpartisan primary has found competition skyrockets,” Gruber said. “There’s more voter choice. There’s more opportunity for both parties and for independent candidates, because the gatekeepers move from the party insiders to the public at large, so there’s more diversity of candidates, more opportunity for different types of candidates, (and) a much more robust and democratic conversation happening at the ballot box.”
The Corporations Committee will consider Case’s bill draft at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 13-14.