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What does equality mean for the “Equality State” in a modern world?

Wyoming got its nickname in 1869, before it was even a state, when the territory granted women the right to vote. In the 153 years since, waves of voter suppression tactics have followed closely after societal and political gains made by people of color, and modern society has grappled with whether past standards are truly “equal.” 

Early last year, the state legislature passed HB 75, a bill that requires voters to present a photo ID when casting their ballots in person. Previously, voters were required to present ID only when registering. 

Republican state Rep. Chuck Gray sponsored the bill, which he called an “important milestone for Wyoming.” Gray, who has repeated the false claim that the 2020 election results were fraudulent, is also running unopposed for Secretary of State. 

According to ACLU estimates, nearly 21 million Americans do not have a form of government-issued photo ID. Strict identification laws also disproportionately impact lower-income and minority communities. 

State Sen. Chris Rothfuss, a Democrat, said the bill was a response to “unfounded allegations of voter fraud that have been fueled by misinformation and partisan anger over the 2020 election.”

But some voters may face problems even before getting to the ballot box. 

Wyoming does not have an option for online voter registration. Voters are required to either register in person at their county clerk’s office or at the polls on Election Day, or they must do so by mail. Voters who register by mail must print an application and have it notarized before sending it into the clerk’s office. 

The Census Bureau estimates that 67.9% of eligible voters in Wyoming registered to vote in the 2020 election. 

One group of Wyoming voters is especially impacted by the state’s strict registration rules: voters with disabilities. 

Nearly 1 in 4 adults in Wyoming has a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those can include everything from needing help moving around the house, trouble with vision or hearing, or more severe physical and cognitive disabilities. 

The requirement for voters to register in person or with a notarized application is a barrier for many voters with disabilities. 

In the 2020 elections, only 26% of voters with disabilities nationally cast a ballot in person, compared to 31% of voters without disabilities, according to a study from Rutgers University

When Wyoming loosened restrictions on voting by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and mailed absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter, turnout stayed the same from 2016 to 2020 for voters without disabilities, with around 66% of non-disabled voters casting a ballot. At the same time, estimates suggest turnout for voters with disabilities increased to about 61%, helping narrow a gap. 

About this series

This project looks at the state of voting access, voting rights and inequities in political representation in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Nationally, Wyoming ranked third for the fewest mailed ballots rejected during the 2020 election. And even before the pandemic, Wyoming did not require voters to submit an excuse in order to vote absentee. Voters can request an absentee ballot from their county clerk or online on the Secretary of State’s website. 

Restoring rights

In Wyoming, more than one in three Black voters has lost their right to vote due to the state’s disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions. That’s more than five times the national average. 

Until reforms were passed two decades ago, people convicted of felony offenses in Wyoming had no path to restoring their voting rights. Following additional reforms in 2017, some people may have their voting rights restored automatically, while others need to apply for those rights. It depends on a variety of factors

Wyoming residents who are convicted of a felony lose their voting rights for the length of their sentences. 

The voting rights of people convicted of some nonviolent felonies are restored automatically upon release. 

People convicted of violent felonies can never restore their voting rights in Wyoming, unless they’re pardoned by the governor.  

Someone who was convicted of a nonviolent felony before 2010 must submit an application to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, including proof that they completed probation or parole. 

People who move to Wyoming after being convicted in another state must also apply to the Department of Corrections. Denials can be appealed. 

A 2020 report by The Sentencing Project found that even with more states granting voting rights to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, more than five million people remain disenfranchised, including over 11,000 in Wyoming

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Hayley Starshak is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune...