Wyoming’s 2018 Budget Session is less than two weeks away, and while budget conversations will certainly dominate, a few bills have caught our attention.
One is House Bill 38, a bill would change how people who register to vote or vote improperly are investigated and prosecuted.
Current state law requires the intent to deceive or the knowledge of wrongdoing in order for a person to be prosecuted for improper voter registration or false voting. Violating the law is a felony, with a penalty of up to five years in prison or $10,000 in fines, or a combination of both. The standard for prosecution is high, but so too is the penalty for violating the law.
More importantly, as currently written the law does not inadvertently criminalize a person who may make a simple mistake on their voter registration. It also precludes criminalization of a voter who can cast a ballot in a different state and moved to Wyoming not knowing they are ineligible here.
For example, some states automatically restore voting rights for people convicted of felonies, but Wyoming does not. It is possible for a person to cast their ballot here in good faith, only to find out later they were actually ineligible to vote because of a prior conviction.
Examples of these kinds of issues are few and far between and there is no evidence of large numbers of people who, upon finding out they cannot vote, go ahead and try to vote anyway.
There is no evidence of any kind of voter fraud in Wyoming. So why is the legislature trying to change the law?
At the May meeting of the Joint Interim Corporations and Political Subdivisions Committee hearing in Laramie, Teton County Clerk Sherry Dagle expressed her concern that the high penalty might be preventing prosecutors from pressing charges against people who vote improperly. Despite the county clerks’ own evidence showing few if any problems addressing the low number of potentially improper votes, the committee moved forward with drafting legislation to change the law.
What we would end up with if HB 38 passes is a whole new set of penalties for making a mistake: a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $200 for simply attempting to exercise the constitutional right to vote.
It is important protect our electoral process from intentional and malicious efforts to undermine it, but criminalizing a mistake that is neither intentional nor undermining to our elections is unnecessary. Hopefully the Wyoming Legislature feels the same way, and rejects HB 38 in the upcoming legislative session.