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Wyoming GOP enables ouster of elected party officials — illegally some say

Republican policies are often set at the grassroots level by committeemen and women. There’s a new rule for how to replace them if they miss too many meetings.

The Wyoming Republican Party State Convention took place from April 18-20 in Cheyenne. (Maya Shimizu Harris/WyoFile)

by Maggie Mullen, WyoFile

Three strikes and you’re out. 

That’s the new policy of the Wyoming Republican Party regarding meeting attendance for its elected precinct committeemen and women — the people who help craft the party’s policy vision. Any precinct committee person who misses three meetings in a year will be removed. 

Supporters say the bylaw change is needed to address an epidemic of no shows across the state. 

“This is not booting or kicking out people from the party,” Park County GOP State Committeeman Vince Vanata told WyoFile, adding that he’s seen members get selected and not show up to a single meeting over the course of their two-year term. 

Adopted at the state party’s convention earlier this month, the bylaw states, “when a precinct person absents himself from three meetings in a 365 day period that person shall be considered to have vacated his seat at the conclusion of the third meeting.” 

From there, the usual appointment process — the same used when a precinct person dies, resigns or moves out of the precinct — will be used to fill the vacancy. 

“We’re just trying to put a mechanism in place so that we can be an effective organization,” Vanata said. 

Last fall, the Park County GOP voted to remove over 20 of its precinct committeemen and women for repeated absences after it had changed its county-level bylaws in late 2022, according to The Powell Tribune. That included prominent members like former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson, his son and former Speaker of the Wyoming House Colin Simpson and Powell Mayor John Wetzel. 

There’s at least one problem with the new statewide bylaw, Colin Simpson, an attorney, told WyoFile. 

“It’s illegal,” Simpson said. 

Simpson pointed to a section of state statute that specifies when a vacancy “shall” occur. 

State law holds that a “vacancy in the county central committee shall occur in the case of death, resignation, failure of a qualified candidate to be elected to a precinct committeeman or committeewoman position, or removal of a residence from the precinct.”

The vacancy will be filled, according to the statute, “by election” or as provided by the party bylaws.

“But I also believe that the state party would like someone to challenge [the bylaw] so they can challenge the constitutionality of that statute,” Simpson said. “Because the state party’s whole position is: They’re a private organization, they can do whatever they want.”

Republicans in recent years have debated the role the state should play in governing political parties that are also private organizations. 

In 2023, the Wyoming Supreme Court weighed in, signaling in its decision that bylaws created by county political parties do not supplant state statute. 

What’s a precinct committee person? 

During their two-year terms, precinct committee people make up the voting body of county central committee meetings and county conventions. They elect party leadership and develop the party’s platform. Every four years, they play an early role in deciding which delegates to send to the party’s national convention where a presidential nominee is selected. 

Although these positions, and many of the decisions they make receive little attention, they have a big bearing on Wyoming politics considering the GOP’s dominance here.

A slow moment in the 2022 Wyoming primary election that saw record numbers of residents register to vote. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

In Wyoming, Republican precinct committee people are selected by registered Republicans during the primary election. 

That, however, does not make them elected officials, Vanata said. 

“Precinct committeemen and women, contrary to what some people say, are not elected officials,” Vanata said. “Precinct committeemen and women are not required to take an oath of office. They’re not required to post a bond for their position. They’re not required to file a campaign finance report.”

Plus, Vanata said, precinct committee people are only chosen by members of their party, whether Democratic or Republican, and not the public at large, such as in a general election. 

“It’s only the people within that political party,” Vanata said. “It’s not a role of governance.”

When asked if he agreed that precinct committeemen and women aren’t elected officials, Simpson responded with a question. 

“Well then how did they become precinct people?” he said. 

But debate around the bylaw shouldn’t center on that point, Simpson said. 

“The discussion, I think, needs to simply be limited to, ‘What has the Legislature authorized by statute and do the county and state bylaws comply?’ And I don’t believe they do,” Simpson said. 

What now?

Secretary of State Chuck Gray, the state’s chief elections officer, did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment on the legality of the new bylaw. 

Vanata didn’t rule out the possibility that someone would file a suit over the bylaw change.

“We live in a litigious world now, that’s always a possibility. So I’m not going to say no,” Vanata said. But he also expressed optimism about the effect of the new bylaw. 

“This is going to be affecting all 23 counties. And hopefully it’ll strengthen the Republican Party, and we can keep people more engaged,” Vanata said. 

When asked what to expect next, Simpson pointed to the upcoming election. If the new bylaw is applied to a precinct committee person in the coming months, they would have the option to run for the seat in August. 

The candidate filing period runs May 16-31. 

“People will run. They’ll vote. They’ll be active,” Simpson said. “If they don’t care, they won’t.”

The primary election is Aug. 20. Voter registration is now open. The last day registered voters can change their party affiliation is May 15.

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.