If the August primary election in Wyoming is an indication, the number of absentee ballots cast in the general election will set records.
But could participation be higher?
Some argue the “Equality State” could make it easier for voters to cast a ballot, especially on the Wind River reservation, the seventh largest Native American reservation in the United States. And Wyoming makes it more difficult than almost any other state to register to vote in the first place.
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Still, Wyoming has taken steps to increase access. No excuse is necessary to request an absentee ballot, and the state legislature recently passed a law that allows residents of Wind River to use tribal IDs to register to vote.
Though state lawmakers have discussed it, they haven’t passed restrictive photo ID laws that disproportionately block people of color and lower-income residents from casting a ballot.
The Secretary of State anticipated more voters would prefer casting a ballot from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic and mailed absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter for the primary and general elections. Nearly half of all the ballots cast in the August primary — more than 63,200 — were absentee ballots, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
The number of absentee ballots cast in Natrona County increased 200% between the primaries in 2018 and 2020, according to WyoFile. The increase in Laramie County was even steeper: 571%.
But lingering distrust of the government by Native Americans have prompted many to opt out of voting, according to the Native American Voting Rights Coalition.
“Years and years ago, our elders and older people, because of historical trauma, they didn’t see any benefit,” Lynnette Grey Bull, coordinator of voter turnout initiatives for Get Out The Native Vote on Wind River in 2018, told the Casper Star-Tribune. “But now we live in a modern age. It can work for our benefit.”
Here’s a look at some of the barriers to the ballot box in Wyoming:
Voter registration hurdles
Wyoming doesn’t provide voters with a way to register to vote online, and registrations completed by mail must be notarized. Wyoming is the only state that requires notarized registration forms, according to WyoFile.
People who sign up for driver’s licenses or other state identification cards are not automatically registered to vote, as they are in 18 other states.
Further, residents who don’t vote in the previous general election are automatically purged from voter rolls, meaning they have to register again to vote in the next election.
Residents of Wyoming who commit felonies are no longer eligible to vote while they’re incarcerated or on parole or probation, a system that voting rights advocates say disproportionately disenfranchises people of color.
Those who have been convicted of their first nonviolent felony and who were no longer under state supervision as of Jan. 1, 2010, have their right to vote automatically restored after five years. Anyone who completed their sentence before that date has to apply to have their rights restored.
Violent offenders or those with prior felony convictions are permanently barred from voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
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Advocates want temporary easing of stringent absentee ballot rules to last beyond the pandemic.
But local disparities and felony disenfranchisement disproportionately stand in the way of voters of color.