THE BUZZ 2: Legacy of Action

By on October 18, 2016

Taking a deep dive into Election Day numbers, and exploring the politically engaged history of Jackson, Teton County and Wyoming.

On the verge of a ‘petticoat rule,’ the Jackson’s Hole Courier noted the movement a month before the historic election on May, 11, 1920.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – If the heavy turnout for August’s primary in Teton County is any indication, the general election should flirt with record-setting numbers on November 8. Nearly half of all registered voters showed up to the polls on August 16—49.3 percent—for a primary that featured contested races at the town, county and state level. A SPET initiative to fund work on the Budge Drive landslide also may have pushed citizens to cast their ballots.

The turnout was surprising to some, but Teton County has a robust track record of involvement when it comes to voting in either the primary or general election, especially in presidential years. A quick look at the numbers shows almost every single registered voter casts a ballot in the general election during presidential years. In 2000 and 2004, the numbers were more than 100 percent. (State statute allows voters to register at the polls on Election Day, which can result in a more than 100 percent turnout.) In 2008, 97 percent of voters visited the polls. Last election the numbers hovered around 96 percent. In non-presidential elections, the turnout historically hovers around an attendance of two-thirds of registered.

By comparison, statewide, an average of 88 percent of all registered voters have cast their vote every November since 2000.A whopping 51 percent traditionally make it to the primary polls in Wyoming.

Still, Wyoming is considered only average when it comes to getting out the vote. The state currently ranks 29th for the percent of voting age citizens who vote, according to data compiled in 2014 by 24/7 Wall Street.

The nearly 50 percent that showed up in August in Teton County was better than years past. Between the years of 2000 and 2014, voter turnout in the primaries averaged around 40 percent. It was the highest in 2010 at 46 percent and the lowest in 2012 at just 30 percent.

Why so blue?

What factors motivated voters to get engaged? Some point to the resurgence of the Democratic Party, which energized young voters in record numbers. Bernie Sanders inspired a litany of new Dems in Teton County. Registered Democrats in the county soared from 3,332 on January 1, 2026 to 4,080 for the primary, and by the latest count, on October 1, that number is now 4,531.

“I don’t think you can say things are trending strongly toward Democrats. It may be a blip just this year. These things tend to move slowly,” said longtime Democratic Party activist Joe Albright. “I might speculate that Independents are now choosing sides. If anything it shows there are some very ‘soft’ Republicans in the county. I would also point out one thing we’ve always known is people in our county like to vote in the primary where there is a contested race. So they will switch party affiliations in order to vote for or against, for instance, Liz Cheney. And sometimes they forget to switch back.”

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Albright added that Republican Party dissention over Donald Trump may have caused some voters to jump ship. “I mean, they didn’t come up with a replacement for Ruth Ann [Petroff]. They’ve never done that before. But they did manage to pull it together to field county commissioner candidates,” he said.

Democratic gains do not appear to be coming at the expense of Independents. While registered Independents have declined from last year to this year (3,132 in 2015 compared to 2,016 currently) the number of unaffiliated voters has increased even while Dems and Republicans have added to their ranks since the start of this year.

The new wave of so-called “latte liberals” is evidenced beyond Teton County. Throughout the West, Democrats are making strong gains in many states once considered staunchly Republican—a trend that began even before Barrack Obama’s first election in 2008, according to Pew Research data.

Republicans also saw gains—4,693 were registered at the beginning of the year. That number grew to 4,888 by August 16, 2016, and the latest data shows the GOP with 5,159 registered voters in the county.

Long considered a “blue” county within a “red” state, Teton County, along with college-centric Laramie County, are two safe havens for liberals in Wyoming. Still, neither county has had more registered Democrats than Republicans in the modern era. Numbers were fairly even in 60s—Wyoming last voted a Democrat for president in 1964—but since then elephants outnumber donkeys 3 to 1 in the Cowboy State.

Teton County’s D:R ratio is the closest it’s been in decades. What makes “22” even more unique is its independent streak. No county in the state has consistently registered more unaffiliated voters than Teton. Customarily one in five registered voters in Teton County claim no party allegiance. Currently, 2,160 are registered as Independents. Capturing this “swing” vote has always been key to victory for candidates in local races—even those gunning for nonpartisan seats.

GOP state committeewoman Lisa daCosta said Independents have always represented the county’s coveted swing vote.

“We’ve been watching this for years. Republicans have represented less than 50 percent of the voters for more than 10 years now,” daCosta said. “It’s always been about the Is. Many of them will declare either D or R for primaries just so they can participate in that election, but will wait until election day to declare they are switching back to Independent. So we won’t really know until after November where these numbers are coming from or what they mean.”

161019buzz2-3_origDespite strong support for the Democratic platform in parts of the state, it’s still not easy to be blue in Wyoming. Of the state’s 90 legislators, 77 are Republican. The current governor, both U.S. senators, and the lone U.S. congresswoman are all Republican.

Aimee Van Cleave is the executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party. She told CNN in April: “I’d say the biggest challenge is making people believe that we have a chance.”

Wyomingites prefer their lawmakers bleed red, but the state has a surprisingly healthy appetite for Dem governors. Since 1890, 20 Republicans have ruled the Equality State, compared to 12 Democratic governors from statehood to present.

Suffragette city

Wyoming’s proud culture of recognizing women is deservedly earned. The state was the first to grant women the right to vote and first to elect a woman governor. Even before Wyoming was a state, John Allen Campbell, governor of the territory, approved the first law in the U.S. granting women the right to vote despite objections from DC diplomats. On November 5, 1889, voters approved the first constitution in the world granting full voting rights to women.

Some historians challenge the motive behind the equality efforts. A pioneer Wyoming needed to attract the fairer sex out West. Nonetheless, the Equality State has consistently championed a women’s right to vote and run for office. Nellie Tayloe Ross-D became the first woman governor in U.S. history when she stepped in for her late husband, William Bradford Ross, in 1925.

Perhaps nowhere is the state’s fem persuasion more evident than in Jackson, where an all woman slate was elected to run the town in 1920. And it was more than a fluke.

Grace Miller was elected mayor, along with council members Rose Crabtree, Mae Deloney, Genevieve Van Vleck, and Faustina Haight. Miller beat out Fred Lovejoy, 56 to 28; Crabtree and Deloney snatched 50 and 49 votes, respectively, for the two-term seats on the council—besting William Mercill (34 votes) and Henry Crabtree (31 votes). Van Vleck pulled down 53 votes with Haight’s 51. That was better than Maurice Williams, 31, and T.H. Baxter, 28.

The vote for Jackson’s mayor and town council was held in May back then. An April 22, 1920 edition of the Jackson’s Hole Courier set the stage.

“A fair sized crowd, which seemed inclined to favor the fairer sex, was witnessed at the caucus meeting,” the paper stated. “But there were some citizens present who, evidently, seemed to think that just for friendly competition there should be a competitive ticket, so another caucus was held, a few minutes later, and the following ticket elected: [Lovejoy, Mercill, Crabtree, Williams and Baxter]. With these two tickets in the field, the voters of Jackson have a chance to demonstrate their belief in or opposition to women suffrage, and their faith in women’s ability to hold and execute political positions.”

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The national Women’s Suffrage movement perhaps influenced voters, but the Courier speculated that Jackson voters sensed the uniqueness of what they were about to accomplish.

“Their complete victory surprised even the women themselves,” the Courier reported on May 13, two days after the vote. “The election was void of all excitement and personal animosity. No unusual amount of ‘campaigning’ was done by either ticket. No special issue was at stake. Turnout was neither light nor heavy. It is thot (sic) the novelty of being the first city on record to be governed entirely by women helped the women to score such a complete victory.”

Reaction was immediate and nationwide. In an address delivered on May 15 by then-Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge—who would go on to win the presidential election in 1923—the dry-witted statesman said, “The citizens of Jackson showed rare good sense in electing women to all town offices.”

Officials of the National Women’s Suffrage movement wrote the town asking for pictures and statements, as did Marion T. Colley, editor in charge of the Women’s department of the New York Evening Post.

Proving it more than novelty, Miller and one-year incumbents Van Vleck and Haight, were easily re-elected in 1921. PJH

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