Political Boundaries cause Controversy

 

February 10, 2022



The 2020 census has come and gone and it’s time to redraw political subdivision lines. Lines are typically drawn to incorporate roughly the same number of people in each subdivision, plus or minus about five percent. However, at times lines are drawn for political purposes, such as trying to influence voting in a district. Such a use of political power is called gerrymandering.

Representative Dan Zwonitzer from Laramie County, Chairman of the House Corporations Committee, is trying to do just that by creating a long, thin dogleg into Precinct 10 to incorporate his new address into his former precinct. This information has been in the public for the past few weeks with heated comments on both sides of the argument. Representative Zwontizer moved out of his House Precinct and into Precinct 10, essentially Eastern Laramie County. His former precinct is adjacent to Precinct 10. He failed to correct his voter registration. This is a common occurrence, even when people move out of state. People tend to wait until the next election to change their address.


The reason Representative Zwonitzer is trying to gerrymander his new home is unclear as the Wyoming Constitution only requires a legislator to be a resident of the county in which he or she seeks election.

“No person shall be … a representative who has not attained the age of twenty-one years, and who is not a citizen of the United States and of this state and who has not, for at least twelve months next preceding his election resided within the county or district in which he was elected.” Wyoming Constitution, Article 3, Section 2.


Speaker of the House Eric Barlow has the sole authority to determine if Representative Zwonitzer will remain eligible to retain his seat or if he will be required to resign. Speaker Barlow issued the following statement on January 28, 2022.

”Yesterday, I received a complaint from the Secretary of State’s Office initially filed with them and requesting their attention regarding allegations that Representative Dan Zwonitzer’s current residence may render him unqualified to serve the remainder of his term.

Pursuant to Article 3, Section 10 of the Wyoming Constitution, only the House of Representatives is qualified to judge whether a member possesses the necessary qualifications to be elected to or continue to serve in the House of Representatives. As such the Secretary of State has properly referred the complaint to us.


I am conferring with House Leadership and LSO legal staff on the manner in which to proceed under the Wyoming Constitution and the Rules of the House of Representatives. Additionally, I have requested Representative Zwonitzer respond to the allegations in writing. Once I have received his response and understand the options available for resolving this matter in an appropriate and expeditious manner, I will propose a course of action.”

Multiple organizations have declared Representative Zwontizer’s position to be fraudulent since he failed to correct his voter registration to reflect his new address. However, the Wyoming Constitution permits Zwonitzer to hold a seat in a precinct in which he does not live as long as he lives in the same county. In other words, he does not appear to have committed intentional voter fraud as alleged by some media personalities. Whether this is right or not is up to the voters, not these organizations. In order to make any elected official ineligible to hold office outside of the precinct of residence the Constitution must be amended.

It remains to be seen what decision Speaker Barlow will make on the case. Will he follow the Constitution or will he ask Zwonitzer to resign? Will he recommend an amendment to the Constitution to add a qualification requiring elected officials to reside in the political subdivision in which they reside? Laramie County has a long history of elected officials resigning their seat when they move out of their subdivision just because it’s the right thing to do. If Zwonitzer is required to resign, the Laramie County Republican Party will submit three names to the County Commissioners who will select from those names for the replacement.

 

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