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How should the state govern political parties? A pair of election complaints seeks a change.

Republicans voted in support of two election complaints lodged against the Wyoming Democratic Party in order to dispute the way the state governs political parties.

The Wyoming Republican Party headquarters in downtown Cheyenne. (Nick Reynolds/WyoFile)

by Maggie Mullen, WyoFile

On paper, the Wyoming Republican Party passed a pair of resolutions at its State Central Committee meeting this weekend that appear to be simply the latest dispute between opposing political parties. 

One challenges the election of a transgender woman to Democratic Party leadership in Albany County; the other opposes how often the state’s Democrats elect their chairperson.

But the purpose behind the resolutions, and the complaints they’re based on, Republicans say, are actually intended to answer a more fundamental question: How should the state govern political parties if they are private organizations?

The Wyoming Supreme Court weighed in earlier this year, but that didn’t cut it for the GOP, whose members have locked horns over the issue in recent years. Now, they’re taking the dispute across party lines. 

Both resolutions are tied to election code complaints filed against the Wyoming Democratic Party by Joey Correnti, former chairman of the Carbon County GOP. The resolutions have no material effect, but rather symbolize the state party’s support. Conversely, the complaints themselves have the potential for prosecution, depending on what the secretary of state and the attorney general decide. 

While both complaints involve the actions of the Democratic Party, Correnti said neither should be taken as “a criminalization or a witch hunt.” 

“Problem is we have laws that are very poorly written that govern the actions of political parties,” Correnti told WyoFile ahead of the meeting. 

In particular, Correnti opposes having different stipulations for minor and major parties. He hopes the two resolutions will motivate the Wyoming Legislature to take action and revise the state’s election code. 

“My main focus is to repeal all the laws that govern the major political parties differently than the minor political parties,” Correnti said. “Because that’s a violation of constitutional equality.”

Background

In May, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled on the limits of political party power under state law. 

The case involved a dispute within the Uinta County Republican Party over who could vote in its 2021 officer and state committeeperson election, according to the ruling. Precinct committee people are decided by any voter who casts a Republican ballot. It’s then up to the precinct committee people to elect party leadership, including their chairman, secretary, committeeman and committeewoman. In 2021, a change in the bylaws allowed outgoing precinct committee people to vote due to their past positions in leadership. 

That was a violation of state law, according to the plaintiffs who filed suit in district court. 

One of the plaintiffs, Rep. Jon Conrad (R-Mountain View), was concerned the change in bylaws was motivated by a desire to move the county party further to the right. 

The defendants, which included former Secretary of State Karl Allred, argued that the issue was not for the state to decide but the party since it’s a private organization. Furthermore, they said the party’s constitutional right to freedom of political association would be violated if it was prohibited from adopting and using the bylaw in question. 

When the district court ruled in favor of the defendants, the plaintiffs appealed to the higher court. The Wyoming Supreme Court reversed the decision “because the voting procedure used in the election and the party’s bylaw violated the clear and unambiguous language” of state law, according to the ruling. 

Joey Correnti, former Chairman of the Carbon County GOP, at the Wyoming Republican Convention in Sheridan on May 7, 2022. (Kevin Knapp/WyoFile)

Complaints

The greater implication of the court’s decision means that bylaws created by county political parties do not supplant state statute. 

In that event, Correnti has a problem with the Democratic Party electing its chairman every four years while his party does so every two years. 

“Functionally, if you have two parties that have to follow the same rule, and they’re doing the same action in a different way, somebody is wrong based on what the court said,” Correnti said. 

“The state central committee shall hold an organizational meeting in odd-numbered years, at which it shall elect from electors registered in the party a chairman, secretary and other officers as provided in the rules of the party,” according to state law

Wyoming Democratic Chairman Joe Barbuto said he’s confident his party is abiding by the law because it does not specify a frequency of internal elections, only that they are to be held in odd-numbered years. He was elected in 2021 and his term will end in 2025. 

The party used to hold leadership elections every two years. But in 2020, Barbuto said, the party changed its bylaws in order to line up leadership elections with election cycles. 

Barbuto called both resolutions “a waste of time.”

“If I was a voting member of the Republican state central committee, I’d want to be working on issues that actually had an impact on how our party functions or maybe on issues that affected the future of our state.”

Barbuto added that the complaint lodged against the Albany County Democratic Party is nothing more than a way to “further this narrative that they want to push right now, this war against woke culture.

“Frankly I don’t understand the time spent meddling in the business of another party,” he said. 

The Albany County Democratic Party elected Artemis Langford as its state committeewoman in March. While state statute does not formally define any sex or gender, the election complaint argues Langford, a transgender woman, doesn’t meet the criteria implied in state statute. 

“It’s disappointing and troubling that the Wyoming Republican Party is concerning itself with the operations of another political party instead of focusing on more important issues confronting Wyoming’s present and future,” Langford said.

Whether the complaints are referred to Wyoming’s Attorney General Bridget Hill is up to Secretary of State Chuck Gray. Correnti said the first complaint had been referred but he was uncertain about the second. 

Gray did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment by press time.


This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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