Note: Albany County Clerk Jackie Gonzales on Aug. 24 told the Boomerang she had updated her estimate of the number of voters who changed party affiliation to vote in the Republican primary as being closer to 1,600.
Albany County Clerk Jackie Gonzales estimates that 2,000-3,000 voters switched parties to vote in the Republican primary Tuesday.
It was easily the most party affiliation changes Gonzales has seen in her nearly 28 years as county clerk.
“We’ve had a lot of new voters, but never this many changes,” she said.
The county had ordered 5,375 Republican “ballots-on-demand” — the type that are fed into computers.
In the last two gubernatorial primaries, roughly 3,500 Albany County residents cast GOP ballots.
This year, 5,102 Republican ballots were cast in the county.
By noon, the county ran out of Republican ballots. Gonzales printed another 400 ballots-on-demand. After those were used, her office printed another 558 old-fashioned paper ballots.
Because paper ballots need be tabulated by hand, final election results for the county weren’t available until about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. High numbers of absentee ballots and difficulty with confirming ballot numbers at the Albany County Fairgrounds also contributed to the delay.
Most Wyoming counties had finalized their election results by 10 p.m. Gonzales and her staff didn’t leave the courthouse until 2 a.m.
It was the longest an Albany County election tally had gone since the 2002 general election.
The ballot shortage followed a number of other difficulties for election officials this primary, including two candidates who withdrew and a last-minute change of a precinct location.
“Anything that could have happened this election in Albany County happened,” Gonzales said.
For a while, it also appeared the Albany County Commission race might trigger an automatic recount of every ballot. Recounts are required for races where the margin of victory is less than 1 percent.
In the race for Republican nomination to the county board, challenger Thad Hoff maintained a narrow lead for most of Tuesday night over former Commissioner Jerry Kennedy.
Once absentee votes were finally reported, Kennedy overtook Hoff by 32 votes to secure the second of two GOP commission spots on the November ballot.
Had Kennedy won by less than 18 votes, Gonzales and her staff would have needed to recount all ballots.
The unusual level of party affiliation changes followed a push by Switch Wyoming, a group that urged Democratic voters to switch parties to vote for Treasurer Mark Gordon, who won the gubernatorial primary.
In the 21 days leading up to the primary, more than 3,000 voters became registered as Republican in Wyoming. Affiliation for all other parties dropped during the same time period.
Those numbers do not include registration changes that occurred Tuesday. Clerks have 30 days to record all address and party affiliation changes.
In the past decade, certain conservative Wyoming legislators have attempted to pass legislation aimed at preventing such party affiliation changes. The most recent bill was introduced in 2017 and would have required any party affiliation changes to be made at least 30 days before an election.
That bill passed the House but was killed in the Senate.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, chairs the House Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions and told the Laramie Boomerang on Wednesday he expects members of his committee to make further attempts to limit party affiliation changes. In his 14 years in the Legislature, he’s seen such a bill be considered four times.
“I expect to see it again, however I don’t see the make-up of the committee changing enough in 2019 for it to pass,” he said.
Zwonitzer said it’s more likely the corporations committee would seriously consider eliminating partisan elections in favor of open-choice primaries.
Bills limiting affiliation changes have been opposed by county clerks, and Zwonitzer said Gordon’s margin of victory — 7,469 votes — was large enough that it’s “hard to make the argument” that he would have lost if Democrats hadn’t switched over to vote Republican.
In addition to creating difficulty for county clerks, Zwonitzer said limiting affiliation changes would also “disenfranchise a lot of voters who don’t realize for the first couple years the rules have changed.”