Wyoming moving ahead with Trump Jr.-backed election changes

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming lawmakers will continue to discuss proposed election changes endorsed by Donald Trump Jr. for their potential to undermine U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney but not for next year as originally planned.

A legislative committee voted Thursday to delay the proposal for what would be Wyoming’s first primary runoffs from as soon as 2022 to no sooner than 2024. Local election officials told lawmakers they wouldn’t have enough time to make both the election changes and required adjustments to legislative district boundaries next year.

“It’s too big of a lift in a redistricting year,” Mary Lankford with the Wyoming County Clerks Association told the state Senate elections committee.

Local officials also said they worried about cost. The committee wrote the potential $1.5 million cost into the bill before voting 4-1 to advance it to the full Senate.

In the Senate, the cost could be a turnoff to lawmakers confronted with declining revenue from Wyoming’s coal, oil and gas industries, which have led to steep state and local cuts.

Two state legislators —- Sen. Anthony Bouchard, of Cheyenne, and Rep. Chuck Gray, of Casper — already have announced they’re running against Cheney, Wyoming’s lone congresswoman and a fellow Republican, for voting to impeach President Donald Trump for the U.S. Capitol riot.

Trump Jr. in January urged Wyoming voters to unite behind a Cheney opponent next year when he called in at an anti-Cheney rally led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz at the Wyoming Capitol.

“Any Republican in Wyoming who does Liz Cheney’s bidding and opposes SF145 is turning their back on my father and the entire America First movement,” Trump Jr. tweeted Tuesday in support of the election changes.

Cheney hasn’t publicly taken a position on the bill. She “trusts the state Legislature to do what is right for Wyoming,” spokesman Jeremy Adler said by email Thursday.

Cheney wasn’t mentioned in Thursday’s discussion of the bill, which supporters — Trump Jr. excepted — haven’t described as a political weapon against her. The state GOP central committee censured Cheney in February for her impeachment vote but for the most part Wyoming’s Republican elected officials have continued to support her.

In her first run for U.S. House in 2016, Cheney won a nine-way Republican primary with just short of 40% while the runner-up got 22%.

Under the bill, a runoff would occur if no candidate got more than 50%. That’s already a higher possibility in 2022 than the 2020 and 2018 primaries, when Cheney beat far lesser-known Republican opponents with commanding majorities.

A runoff could consolidate Cheney’s opponents to a single candidate. In GOP-dominated Wyoming, the winner would then be heavily favored in the general election.

Between the primary and any runoff, candidates could have “real debates instead of a beauty pageant where you have a dozen candidates come up and speak for 15 seconds,” testified Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith, a Republican who lost to Cheney with 15% in 2016 and has said that he too may run against her again.

Legislators agreed with the concerns about implementation and cost, however.

“I don’t think the bill as it stands right now is workable from all the testimony we’ve heard,” Sen. Brian Boner, a Republican from Douglas and a sponsor of the bill, said in support of the changes. “We have to have a bill that actually works.”

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