BY CALOB TAYLOR
It doesn't take long on social media these days to see we are divided as a city, state and nation. This division is unlike anything a lot of us have ever seen. We have entered an era of divisive political grandstanding displayed on Twitter daily.
Yet it doesn't seem to be a popular political position to suggest that U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, also known as AOC, and U.S Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., are both exactly why we are so divided.
This era isn't by chance; it's a product of a political system designed to
divide. This divisive system is displayed in our primary elections and is most visible at the highest elected office of U.S. president.
|Millionaire Foster Friess blamed crossover voting for his loss last year.|
The party-run primary/caucus is a litmus test pitting the most uncompromising partisans against each other with the winner standing no chance at bridging any partisan divide once in office.
Partisan primary elections at all levels are pushing the center majority further into apathy. Already the majority of voting age adults stay home on primary election day.
According to the secretary of state, only 31.6 percent of Wyoming’s voting age population turned out to vote in the 2018 primary. Since 2008, the highest turnout of voting age adults was 32.7 percent with the lowest at 25 percent in 2012, giving us an average turnout of 28.1 percent over the last decade.
The general election fares a little better, breaking 50 percent thrice in the same period with the high of 64.4 percent in 2008 and the low coming in 2014 at 38.5 percent. With roughly seven in 10 Wyomingites staying home for the primary elections and less than stellar numbers for the generals, I am not sure we are as divided as it appears or whether our system has created a divided government we love to hate.
If we truly want to bridge the division, we need to reform our political system. Let’s open our primaries, encourage participation, limit partisan influence and enfranchise the masses. Yet a growing number of Wyoming partisans want to deepen the division and limit electoral influence to the party loyalists.
Wyomingites used to take pride in the fact they voted for the person and not their party, electing individuals who were above the partisan fray and would work for all the people of Wyoming. Now elected officials are expected to follow the party lock step or face the wrath of party officials, who were never elected by the people.
These days it seems like we have shifted the political spectrum so far to the right that moderate Republican candidates are dragged through the mud as RINOs and Democrats as enemies of the state.
There are two types of primary elections.
The first is the closed primary in which members of any given party choose who they want representing their party in the general election. The second is the open primary in which the field of candidates is narrowed down to give the electorate an opportunity to evaluate the remaining candidates on a deeper level.
Wyoming's primary election process is quasi-closed for statewide and legislative races. You must be registered within the party you are voting in only at the time you cast your ballot. Therefore, you can change your party affiliation right before you vote for long enough to vote in the primary and return to your previous affiliation after voting.
The exception is the presidential primary, which is strictly controlled by the respective political parties. Delegate selection is dictated by the state central committees and approved by the national parties.
Partisans claim our current system, a system that has worked well for Wyoming for years, opens the door for meddling in their ability to put up the purest candidates for their party. Millionaire megadonor and Republican candidate Foster Friess complained about crossover voting in the last governor’s race. He said it was Democrats crossing over to vote as Republicans who gave now-Gov. Mark Gordon the GOP primary win.
Seven attempts have been made to close the process with at least one proposal in each general session of the Legislature since 2011.
This partisan power grab is why during the last legislative session the supermajority Republican Party put massive resources toward further closing the process. Three
unique attempts were made with bills that seemed to raise themselves from the dead several times. But they failed every time.
|Wyoming primary voters in 2018.|
There are a number of reasons why an individual may want to change affiliation at the polls. Meddling in the other party's primary is at the bottom of the list. If meddling isn't the reason for changing, what is?
First, have you ever picked up a non-Republican ballot? Yeah, there are a lot of blank slots. Have you ever picked up a nonpartisan ballot? It's blank with the few exceptions of nonpartisan local races, such as city council. You literally cannot be an independent voter in Wyoming during the primary.
There isn't a single county in Wyoming where Republican voter registration isn't the majority. Many elections in Wyoming are decided in the Republican primary – a natural consequence of having a single party with 70 percent of the registered voters. If you want your voice to be heard in many elections, you had better vote in the Republican primary.
Second, voter registration data are in the public domain, allowing anyone to access your party affiliation at any time. During the election, I heard from many people who serve in the military, own businesses, work in public service or who enjoy their privacy. They don't want their voter registration impacting their affairs. They were much opposed to the proposals brought forward by the majority party.
Finally, each person who crosses over to vote has his or her own personal reasons, and it's none of our business. Our vote is our voice to use in the way we see fit. We are all Americans, even if we vote differently.
If we want the people to prevail, we shouldn't be adding more restraints to the electoral process. At this moment in time with the divisive "us vs. them" attitude, with the majority of the voting age populous staying home, apathy, or worse, cynicism is the largest threat to liberty.
The smaller the group of people, the easier it is to manipulate the results. If we want a republic truly representative of the people, we must hear from them at the polls each and every election.
We should be fighting for ways to engage the people to turn as many of them out to vote as possible. We must do everything we can to avoid falling into, or in this case creating, the framework for oligarchical rule.
Calob Taylor A civically engaged citizen of Cheyenne and former candidate for the state Legislature.