Saturday, May 3, 2014

Voter Suppression in Wyoming

There is an unusual amount of interest in the office of Secretary of State. What Wyoming needs to see among the candidates who want to become the state’s chief elections officer is an unusual amount of interest in voter registration.

Over two decades, there’s been an alarming decrease in the numbers of Wyoming people who are registered to vote. It’s unclear whether Wyoming politicians don’t know that or whether they don’t want you to know that. Either way, it doesn’t get talked about.

In 1992, 73% of Wyoming’s eligible voters were registered. While 3 out of 4 is not especially boast-worthy, it’s the high water mark. The number has steadily declined as the state’s population has steadily increased.

In 2012, only 56% of eligible voters were registered. Wyoming is nearing the breaking point for a democracy. At this rate of decline, it will not be more than a couple more election cycles before fewer than half of those eligible are registered.

How can elections be legitimate if so few of those who can vote are not even registered? Why has this not been an issue in gubernatorial, legislative, and secretary of state campaigns?

A cynic might suggest the lack of participation serves the interest of most of these pols. The cynic would be right. When a flaw in a system so critical to government is allowed to worsen, you can bet it serves someone’s interest to keep it that way.

The following is a list of state house and senate incumbents defeated in 2012: ZIP!

In 2012, there were 15 state senate seats open. Thirteen candidates ran with no major party opposition. In 60 house races, candidates with no major party opponent won forty-five seats. (

It is clear that those who write the laws have no interest in changing them in order to increase the numbers of registered voters. They are doing just fine with fewer and fewer voters participating. But is this trend healthy for the state? Rational people who care more about effective government and less about the partisan stakes agree that something needs to be done.

There is a great debate in many states about voter suppression. Wyoming honed voter suppression long ago and off the radar screen, suppressing voter participation by making it difficult to register.

States that actually want to see more citizens take part in the process have found creative ways to do so. Some offer registration opportunities at public libraries, post offices, unemployment offices, and at public high schools and universities. In some jurisdictions, colleges, universities, and trade schools participating in federal student loan programs allow enrolling students an opportunity to register to vote.   

At the same time the steep decline in Wyoming voter registration began, Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the “Motor Voter Act”). It was designed specifically to make it easier for Americans to register to vote. This helpful reform is being used in 44 states. But Wyoming insisted on an exemption.

Despite an abysmal record of not registering its voters, our state pols argued that the facts that citizens are permitted register at the polls is sufficient. Two decades of a steadily declining percentage of registered voters demonstrate the fallacy of that argument.

What is sacred about a law that clearly doesn’t promote voter registration? Why should Wyoming people be required to march themselves to a county clerk’s office, which is open only during normal business hours when most people are working?

The question is whether Wyoming politicians want you to register. If they do, they should allow you to register in any government office where you are required to produce a valid id. State law should require county officers to engage in outreach, e.g. setting up booths where people gather in the community.

When you meet one of the candidates for the governorship, the legislature or secretary of state, ask them why they allow a system to persist that results in the participation of fewer and fewer voters.

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