CHEYENNE — A bill that would tighten Wyoming’s election laws to require residents to present a valid form of identification when voting in person, rather than just when registering to vote, gained final approval from the state Legislature on Thursday.
House Bill 75, which gained support from the Senate by a resounding 28-2 final vote, now heads to Gov. Mark Gordon for consideration. If signed into law, the legislation would require residents to present a valid form of identification when voting in person, whether on Election Day or during early voting. Under current law, Wyoming residents are only required to present a valid form of ID when registering to vote.
Although there have been no cases of voter fraud reported in Wyoming’s last few elections — and only three cases in the state over the last 40 years, according to The Heritage Foundation — the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, has repeatedly described the proposal as a “best practices” issue that would restore voters' confidence in the election system.
"Voter ID is a step in keeping our election statutes tight and ensuring there's an environment where it is difficult to commit fraud,” Gray told lawmakers on the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee earlier this week.
While Gray brought similar legislation last session that wasn’t introduced in the House, this year’s bill had more solid backing, with more than 40 members of the 60-member House of Representatives and half of the 30-member Senate signed on as co-sponsors, including several members of Republican leadership.
The bill had also been worked in tandem with the Secretary of State’s office and county clerks across Wyoming. During the committee meeting earlier this week, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan told lawmakers that an extensive effort had been made to include every form of available identification under the bill.
“This, in no way, could be argued to be disenfranchising any voters, and that's why you see the extensive lists of IDs that are applicable here,” said Buchanan, adding that he had met with officials from the Wind River Reservation to address any of their potential concerns.
The legislation would require voters to present one of the following forms of identification when voting in person:
• Driver’s license or identification card issued in any U.S. state or outlying territory
• Tribal identification card
• Valid U.S. passport
• Photo identification issued by the University of Wyoming, a Wyoming community college or a Wyoming public school
• U.S. military card
• Medicare insurance card
Although it doesn't include a photo on it, the Medicare insurance card was included as a result of conversations with Wyoming AARP officials, who noted that some elderly residents may lack any other form of government-issued ID.
In the Wyoming Senate, the proposal passed Thursday after a few minutes of discussion, with several bill proponents speaking of the need to safeguard the state's voting system.
"I think being proactive is what this is about," said Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs. "We don't want to become some other state. We don't want to see the issues that happened somewhere else happen here, so I think this is a step toward that."
A few opponents, however, continued to question the necessity of the bill. Senate Minority Floor Leader Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, pointed to research showing that new ID laws can deter voter turnout, especially among non-white and elderly populations. He added that a better way to improve election integrity would be to promote voter turnout in Wyoming.
"We all know how (the vote) is going to go. I can count the number of sponsors, but I'm disappointed that this is the approach that we're taking when there isn't a real problem," Rothfuss said. "There's just a fear, and in responding to that intangible, nebulous fear, and the stories we hear late at night as we're falling asleep, we're going to reduce voter participation in a way that will disproportionately affect certain demographics."
After gaining widespread support from both chambers, HB 75 will now head to the governor for further consideration and possible passage into law.