CHEYENNE – This could be the last year that Wyoming uses its often-times confusing caucus process to award the state’s Republican and Democratic delegates for presidential contests.
Top lawmakers on the Legislature’s Management Council voted Wednesday to approve a study that would look at abandoning caucuses and switching to a primary in order to select the two parties’ presidential nominees.
The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee will look at the issue during the coming months as part of its list of interim assignments.
The panel will be tasked with recommending whether the Legislature should consider a bill during the 2017 general session to adjust the state’s statutes to allow a primary.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, who co-chairs the committee, said leaders with both the Wyoming Republican and Democratic parties requested the study.
“It is a little different how we do it than most other states, and I think more states are moving away from the caucus system,” he said. “The voting public certainly asks a lot over the years why we don’t have an election-type system instead of a caucus-type system.”
The majority of states use primary elections in which voters visit polling sites, cast their ballots and leave.
Caucuses, on the other hand, more closely resemble meetings where voters gather, discuss and form groups to express their preferences for candidates. These can require much longer time commitments and can be confusing for both new and experienced voters.
The state Republican Party began its three-step process last week with its precinct caucuses. Delegates who are named at that level will go on to a county convention this weekend and then to the state convention.
The Wyoming Democratic Party, meanwhile, uses a simpler process that is similar to traditional caucuses.
The political parties largely are allowed to set their own rules for how their presidential nominating process works. But Zwonitzer said legislation – and likely funding – would be needed to give them the option of setting a primary.
The study was one of dozens that the Management Council assigned to the Legislature’s standing committees on Wednesday.
One of biggest issues lawmakers will tackle in the months leading up to next year’s session is how to address a looming K-12 funding shortfall.
Due largely to the downturn in the energy sector – a main source of revenue for the schools – the state projects a more than $500 million shortfall for its school foundation program in the 2019-20 biennium.
But lawmakers hope to find budget solutions by looking at the issue from both the revenue and spending perspectives.
The Joint Revenue Committee has been assigned to consider ways, including looking at new or existing taxes, to find revenue streams to fund school construction and major maintenance.
The Joint Education Committee, meanwhile, will look at cost savings.
The Management Council, meanwhile, voted down a proposal to have the Joint Education Committee explore legislation that would let school employees carry guns in schools.
In the past, lawmakers have brought individually sponsored bills to repeal the state’s ban on guns in schools. Those efforts, including one in 2015, have been unsuccessful.
Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, co-chairs the Joint Education Committee. He said the study was requested largely to see if anything can be done to address safety issues at rural schools.
Speaker of the House Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, was among the Management Council members who voted against having this study.
“We already kind of beat that horse to death,” he said.
Another issue that will not be debated as part of interim work is Medicaid expansion.
Lawmakers defeated the proposal, which would extend health coverage to about 20,000 low-income adults, for the fourth straight year during the recent budget session.
The Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee was assigned to study several issues surrounding access to health care as part of its interim work.
But Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, who co-chairs the panel, said reviewing expansion again is not “on the radar” of the committee.