LANDER, Wyo. — Wyoming residents could face a new hurdle when registering to vote if Secretary of State Chuck Gray gets his way.
The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee advanced a proposal at its Tuesday meeting to create a 30-day residency requirement for voters. Currently the law only requires a voter to be a “bona fide resident” of the state, among other qualifications. Secretary of State Chuck Gray, who brought the proposal to the committee, said the 30-day requirement would provide clarity “as to who can vote and in what situations they can register.”
Known as a durational residency requirement, the concept is not entirely new to the state. A provision of the Wyoming Constitution required one year of residency until it was struck by the Wyoming Supreme Court in 1972, according to a memo prepared by the Legislative Service Office.
“The bottom line here is that that constitutional provision was struck down, and [in] an absence of action by the Legislature, we think we need to have action on the durational residency requirement,” Gray told the committee. “We believe a 30-day residency requirement for state races would pass federal and state muster.”
The committee requested that LSO draft a bill ahead of the Joint Corporation’s August meeting, along with several other pieces of election-related legislation.
“Durational residency requirements for voting have been addressed in a variety of ways on both the federal and state level,” the LSO memo states. On the federal level, for example, the memo points to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits “the imposition and application of a durational residency requirement for citizens as a precondition to voting” in presidential elections.
Wyoming’s constitutional provision was challenged in 1972 in Delgiorno v. Huisman when three Laramie County residents were denied registration because none of them had lived in Wyoming for a full year. That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to Tennessee’s durational voting requirements in Dunn v. Blumstein. The high court held that such a requirement violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court also ruled that Tennessee must show a “substantial and compelling reason for imposing residence requirements.”
Wyoming’s highest court recognized that decision when it ruled that the state did not have a compelling interest in maintaining a one-year residency requirement. It did, however, determine that a 30-day residency requirement was permissible in order to match the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling
“The Legislature is still free to establish durational residence requirements for any period for which their investigation showed there was a compelling reason,” the Court ruled.
“I’m confused on why we’re doing this other than other states have done it,” Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) told the committee. “What is the compelling interest of the state to impose one when we’ve had all along no requirement and it seems to be working just fine?”
Gray responded with a hypothetical scenario he said he had posed to the county clerks.
“I asked them ‘If someone showed up at a hotel, and asked for a ballot, asked to register … is that an illegal action?’” Gray said, adding that the clerks told him it wasn’t clear. “That’s scary to me,” he said.
“Mr. Secretary, is this a problem that you actually witnessed or encountered or is it just a hypothetical?” Yin responded. Gray said the clerks agreed that “this needs to be shored up.”
“We do not have a position,” Malcolm Ervin, Platte County clerk and president of the County Clerks’ Association of Wyoming told WyoFile. “We’re currently looking to see how other states administer their durational residency requirements so we can provide the committee with as much information as possible. As always, we do not have a policy stance, only an administrative one.”
Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody) expressed concerns about the logistics of a 30-day residency requirement.
“If I moved to Wyoming, got a job, and it’s been 30 days in a hotel because I couldn’t find a place to live, what documentation would I have to bring to be able to register to vote to say, ‘I have been here for 30 days?’” she said.
Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) raised the question about whether the congressional prohibition on durational residential requirements for presidential elections would pose the need for two different ballots. Gray pointed to other states with a residency duration requirement, none of which have bifurcated ballots.
“This is a complex question. And one that I think we will need to delve into at the [August] meeting,” Gray said, before pointing to North Dakota, “which has same day registration and a durational residency requirement, which would be the box that we would fit into.”
Despite some unknowns, the committee chose to move forward with the proposal. Some expressed a keen interest in the proposal.
“I’m very glad to hear this here today,” Rep. Pepper Ottman (R-Riverton) told the committee. “There was a meeting in Riverton and there was different people there. One of the questions was, ‘Although we have one of the best election systems in the country, what can we do to make it better?’ And that one thing was residency requirements.”
Ottman declined to clarify to WyoFile what meeting she was referring to or who had made the suggestion. In April, Ottman and Fremont County’s five other legislators were invited to a private meeting with Douglas Frank, whose assertions of voter fraud were refuted by the County Clerks’ Association of Wyoming in a letter to Gray.
Reps. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander), Ember Oakley (R-Riverton), Sarah Penn (R-Lander) and Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) told WyoFile they did not attend the meeting. Ottman declined to say whether she did and Sen. Tim Salazar (R-Riverton) did not respond to WyoFile’s inquiries.
The Corporations Committee will next meet Aug. 24-25 in Douglas.