OETA Reports on Major Party Unwillingness to Share Elections With Alternative Parties

This past week, OETA ran a story on Oklahoma political parties and the fact that Oklahoma has no party alternatives to the Democratic and Republican parties.

The report starts with a historical look at the shifts in party registration among voters and how the Republican Party and Independents have increased voter registration while Democrats have lost registrations.

The report then went to the heads of the Oklahoma Republican and Democratic parties for their opinions on ballot access reform and got them on the record stating their positions.

Republican Party Chair Paul Weston made it very clear that the Oklahoma Republican party is opposed to ballot access reform. He stated, “If you are going to be viable enough, then go organize enough people together to where you can organize as a party and get your candidates on the ballot.” When asked if the threshold to form a new party should be lowered, he responded, “I think they are just fine where they are.” Meaning, he is fine with ballot access laws that keep competition off the ballot.

While Democratic Party Executive Director Trav Robertson was more open to the idea, he did not specifically say if his party is for reform or against it. When asked, he responded, “We would meet with those individuals in the legislature who are forced or tasked with making that decision and let them know that we believe that everyone should have access to the ballot box and that everyone has a right in a democracy to be a candidate for office.” While that is a great ideal, it is not a clear statement on whether people should be able to form new political parties without unnecessary hurdles placed by the government.

The report does have one error near the end. It mentions that a bill was introduced in the last session to ease the ballot access requirement. The report states that the bill was not heard on the floor. This is incorrect. The bill was heard, but because the Senate versions and the House version differed, it was sent to a conference committee which never came to a compromise to send to the Governor.

As a treat, we have this report from 2006 with a similar report from OETA following the candidacy of J. M. Branum.

Some House Keeping Notes

As part of trying to improve our site, we have taken some measures to limit spam on the blog. As part of this, we installed a new spam filter that is javascript and cookie based. If you have turned off either of these, you may have problems registering and commenting. We are sorry for the inconvenience but we just recently deleted over 5,000 spam user accounts.

On that note, we could not find a clear way to determine between spam registrations and legit ones. So our basis for deletion was if the user account was a mere subscriber and if they never posted a non-spam comment. If this means your account was deleted, we are sorry. Feel free to register again and keep in mind the above requirements.

Our hope is that you will have a spam free experience and we will have a better and easier time at managing our community here.

Thank you for your patience and your support.

Ethics Commission Says New Rules Do Not Violate Colorado Ruling

Back in January, we wrote about a ruling out of the 10th Circuit that determined that Colorado’s campaign finance laws were unconstitutional because they allowed candidates for major parties to raise more funds than their minor party and Independent competition. At the same time, Oklahoma was considering campaign finance reforms that we felt could be in violation of that ruling.

During this past legislative session, the Legislature passed a campaign finance reform bill that allows for the State Ethics Commission the ability to write its own rules with only a simple approval from the Legislature. Now that the bill has passed and the session is over, the new rules go into effect for the 2016 elections.

We had asked the Ethics Commission about whether they took that ruling into account when drafting the rules, but were told the ruling came after they drafted them. So they told us that they would review the ruling and announce their opinion at a later meeting. It was in the July meeting that they determined the new rules do not violate the 10th Circuit ruling. (PDF)

General Counsel Frazier discussed Riddle v Hickenlooper, a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling regarding disparate contribution limits in Colorado. Frazier explained that Commission staff had analyzed this ruling, and that it would not impact the Commission’s recently promulgated campaign finance rules.

We have requested a copy of the Commission’s findings but have not heard back from the Ethics Commission. Frazier is no longer employed by the Commission and we have not been able to get in touch with her replacement.

It is our opinion that these rules, while not violating the letter of the ruling, do violate the spirit of the ruling. By allowing some candidates to raise more money than others, the playing field is stacked in favor of major party candidates over their competition.

The fact remains that if these rules remain unchanged before the 2016 elections, we will likely see a challenge to the rules and they will more than likely be ruled unconstitutional just as Colorado’s rules were.

OETA Comments On Debate Rules Which Exclude Half The Candidates For Governor

Recently, we learned that Oklahoma’s only Governors debate was going to exclude the two Independent candidates for governor, Richard Prawzienski and Kimberly Willis. We reached out to the League of Women Voters and learned that they were not invited because they did not meet the criteria for debate inclusion. At the time, we had reached out to OETA, one of the other sponsors, seeking their comments. They have responded with their comments and the rules for inclusion.

In general, OETA Executive Director Dan Schiedel stated they were not included because they did not meet the guidelines set out in the rules.

At this time, it appears that Mr. Prawdzienski and Ms. Willis do not satisfy the criteria and therefore, neither candidate was invited to the Gubernatorial Debate scheduled for October 2, 2014 at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

He has also stated that if the situation changes between now and the debate, they could receive an invitation.

If factors change that allow Mr. Prawdzienski and/or Ms. Willis to satisfy the terms of the OETA Debate Criteria and Participation Policy (and criteria set forth by the debate partners) in advance of October 2 , we will re-evaluate the matter.

But what exactly are the rules regulating who get’s to be included? For that, Mr. Schiedel provided a link to those rules. So let’s take a look. Starting with the opening paragraph introducing the rules, emphasis mine:

OETA-The Oklahoma Network has a long tradition of encouraging statewide coverage of debates and other forums involving governmental leaders and candidates for elected office. We follow all rules and regulations mandated by the Federal Communications Commission. As far as debates and other similar forums (“the debates”), we must be sensitive to the number of participants. Therefore, OETA-The Oklahoma Network (“OETA”) reserves the right, in the public interest, to limit participants and the manner of the production in accordance with this OETA Debate Criteria and Participation Policy.

In this, OETA admits that the rules are designed to limit the number of participants in any debate they sponsor. Why? For the public interest of course. Exactly what that means is probably up to debate itself. One would think that the public interest would be better served by including all candidates for the office featured.

Let’s move on and look at how they determine which candidates are included.

To be considered for inclusion in OETA-produced and broadcast debates, the candidate must satisfy the following criteria:

Must be a legally qualified candidate that is qualified for a place on the ballot;

I don’t think that any reasonable person would think that Richard Prawdzienski or Kimberly Willis fail this requirement. They are both ballot qualified and will be on the ballot. So let’s see what else might be preventing their invitation.

When working with a debate “partner” or other organization integral to the presentation of the debate (“presentation organization”), the candidate must satisfy the criteria of the “partner” or “presentation organization”;

This rule grants any participating debate sponsor to block inclusion of a candidate for any reason. The sponsor doesn’t seem to be required to provide any justification, simply that they don’t want that candidate to appear. Why this is even a rule, is anyone’s guess. With three separate sponsors with their own agendas it would be easy for any one of them to simply say “We don’t want candidate X at the debate” and OETA would simply agree.

Must show at least 5% support in any available legitimate, professionally-conducted public opinion surveys (polls) by an independent political pollster

This next criteria is often the most sticking point for any debate. In this rule, the debate organizers are shifting the burden for exclusion onto a third party they have no control over. If that third party conducting the poll wishes to exclude any candidate, of which we have already shown they are, then the debate organizer can simply wash their hands of any blame. This particular rule is designed for the sole purpose of excluding any candidate that is not a member of the two duopoly parties as most professional pollsters only include duopoly party candidates in their polls.

Must have demonstrated a serious and responsible candidacy by taking certain actions necessary for the undertaking of a statewide or district campaign which shall be evaluated in their totality

Next is a set of rules that may seem objective but are simply a subjective means of determining the validity of any candidate. They are a set of rules that if any single point is not met, the candidate is deemed “not serious” and thus excluded from the debate. So what are these guidelines? There are quite a few, but I will list some of the most interesting ones.

Whether the candidate has organized and implemented a statewide or district-wide fundraising program and can demonstrate raising of campaign contributions of at least $10,000.00 exclusive of funding from the candidate’s own resources

Whether there is a campaign office, outside of the candidate’s home, and a campaign telephone number and e-mail address

Whether the candidate is preparing for or conducting statewide or district-wide media operations

Whether the candidate has been included in campaign coverage of other television news organizations

Whether the candidate has received more than incidental press coverage (e.g. identification as a candidate) in at least five (5) bona fide professional print, online, radio, television or cable television news stories

What is clear in this set of criteria is the continued reliance on third parties to effectively veto the inclusion of any candidates. While the first two I listed seem to be aimed at the work done by the candidate him/herself, The last two simply cede control over the debate roster to parties outside the control of the debate organizers.

If you look at these rules in totality, if a candidate is ballot qualified, raises significant sums of money, attends public events, distributes campaign literature, but is excluded from polls, ignored by the press, or any one of the debate organizers doesn’t like him or her, then they are excluded. In the end, these rules are designed from the onset to exclude Independent and alternative party candidates.

One final note, these rules were initially adopted in September of 2002. In that year, Independent Gary L. Richardson received just over 14% of the vote. Democrat Brad Henry eeked out a victory of less than 1 percentage point. I am merely speculating here but perhaps the strength of the Richardson campaign at the time was one of the primary drivers of this change. In comparison, the Commission for Presidential Debates revamped its rules in the wake of Ross Perot’s successful third party run for President that resulted in a victory for Bill Clinton over George Bush in 1992.

Despite all that and what these rules state, the exclusion of any candidate in a debate or forum for any office is a disservice to the voters of Oklahoma. By denying those candidates a spot at the debate, the organizers are denying the people of Oklahoma a fair, free and equal election.

We would recommend that everyone who reads this to contact OETA Executive Direct Dan Schiedel, the League of Women Voters and Oklahoma State University to demand that all candidates for Governor be invited to the debates regardless of these rules.

Oklahoma’s Only Governor Debate Excludes Half The Candidates

Earlier this week, the Joe Dorman campaign sent out a press release demanding more than a single debate from the Fallin campaign. In this press release, it is revealed that OSU, OETA and the League of Women Voters have teamed up to host the only debate in October.

Based on this, press release alone, it was unclear if the two Independent candidates, Richard Prawdzienski and Kimberly Willis, were going to attend, so I reached out to two of the hosts of the debate OETA and the League. I am still waiting to hear back from OETA but I have learned some troubling news from the League.

When asked if the Independent candidates were going to attend, this was the response.

The League, working with OETA and OSU, relied on available polling data to select the candidates for this televised debate. Our national organization’s best practices sets out the use of polling data as one of the tools for selecting candidates for inclusion in a forum or debate. We recognize the problem of independent candidates at times being excluded from polling.

You will notice that they do recognize the weakness in their decision to exclude half the candidates, yet they are unwilling to do anything about it.  This despite the admission that they want fairer and equal access to ballots in Oklahoma.

A number of our LWVOK members are working to find ways to open ballot access to third party candidates. It is very difficult, as you probably know, to get a third party recognized in Oklahoma.

We will have to follow the guidelines that have been established for this debate, but would welcome your support in working to make it easier to get third parties certified in Oklahoma.

It is unfortunate that the League does not wish to do one of the most basic and simple things that could be done to this end and invite all ballot qualified candidates to the debate. Without access to the debates, the election is stacked against Independent candidates. If they cannot get to the debates, people don’t hear about them. If people don’t hear about them, they are excluded from polls. If they are excluded from polls, they are excluded from debates. It is a vicious cycle.

So with the failure to include either Independent candidate in recent polls and the use of such flawed polling to determine the debate attendees, this debate will be far from fair and balanced.

We will update you if we hear back from OETA.

Rasmussen Election Poll Shows Fallin At 45%, Fails To Name Both Independent Candidates

As the Oklahoma Governors Race hits full gear following Fallin’s primary win, Rasmussen held the first of many polls of potential voters. This poll found that Oklahomans are nearly evenly split between the two duopoly party candidates Mary Fallin and Joe Dorman. The poll found that 45% of potential voters favored Fallin while 40% favored Dorman. Of the remaining 15%, 7% favored “someone else” and the other 8% were still undecided.  This electoral favorability of Fallin is also reflected in the 49% of people who approve of the job she is doing in office.

However, this poll is troubling in one major sense. The poll neglected to mention either of the Independent candidates running for governor, Richard Prawdzienski and Kimberly Willis. The act of naming only the major party candidates is rampant through polling services across the country, so it really isn’t a surprise to see it happen here. However, this practice is detrimental to the campaigns of minor party and independent candidates.

Many debate organizers rely heavily on poll data to determine who should be invited to polls. In many debates, this results in only the two major party candidates being in attendance. Even if a poll does include all candidates, the debate organizers will often select only those polls that meet their desired results.

I have reached out to both Independent candidates for comments on this poll. While Kimberly Willis has yet to respond, Richard Prawdzienski had this to say.

A couple Republicans told me don’t waste my time running because I can’t beat Fallin. (Historically incumbents win, also because Oklahoma is a Red state and will vote Republican. One told me that Fallin will win with 68% of the vote, Fallin’s campaign has a million dollars, she can easily get more.) Anyways, I put my $1500 dollars down and am running against her. Win or lose my message will be heard. If I can prevent both the R or D from getting more than 49% my message would be heard around the nation.

If this poll is any indication, Prawdzienski is well on his way to prevent either candidate from winning with a majority of votes. The last time an Independent candidate ran for governor, Gary L. Richardson pulled 14.12% of the vote. The result was that Brad Henry (D) won the election with 43.27% of the vote and a margin of victory of 0.66% over Steve M. Largent (R).

We would hope that future polls would be more inclusive to all candidates in the various elections across the state. We have requested comment from the Rasmussen organizers and are awaiting a response.

Letter To The Editor Of The Tulsa World Points Out Lack Of Ballot Access Reform

The latest letter to the editor, written by Zachary Knight, points out that the legislature once again failed to pass ballot access reform in the latest Legislative Session. This makes the 3rd ballot access bill to have died in a conference committee.

Another session of the Legislature has ended and Oklahoma is still number one in having the worst ballot access laws in the nation.

Oklahoma has the harshest laws regulating who can form a new political party or who can be on the presidential ballot. All other states have an easier process for both of those actions.

This year, the Legislature considered House Bill 2134, which would have greatly eased both of those processes, but once again was quietly killed it. The bill would have reduced the number of signatures needed to form a new political party by half. It later was changed to reducing the independent presidential petition requirement by half. The bill went to a conference committee where it languished and died. This is the same sort of committee that has quietly killed every ballot access bill in the last six years.

Oklahoma is in sore need of new political ideologies and new leadership outside the current parties. But we will get neither if we keep electing the same people who block efforts to allow those ideologies and leaders access to the political process. We need to reform our laws, but more important, we need to vote out of office anyone who votes to deny political freedom in Oklahoma.

2014 Session Ends With No Ballot Access Reform Passed

This past Friday, the State Legislature voted to end the 2014 Session a week early. This action resulted in a final resolution on the passage of HB2134 being out of reach. With its updated language being provided by the conference committee just two days before the vote end the session, the bill never had time to gain the proper votes for final passage.

This was precisely the result I feared would happen if the bill went to a conference committee. No ballot access bill has made it passed any conference committee in Oklahoma. Had the House just approved the Senate version of the bill, we would be in a far better place today. I had explained that to Rep Echols, but he felt that the possibility of the bill being challenged on Single Subject grounds to be too great.

For now, Oklahoma is right back where it has been for many many years, with the worst ballot access laws in the nation. If nothing changes in the next two years, we will likely be in exactly the same place we were two years ago, as the only state in the US with two candidates for President on the ballot.

We will be working closely with the Legislature and Rep Echols over the next year to get ballot access reform passed.

Conference Committee Submits Recommended Language For Final Version Of HB2134

The Conference Committee assigned to HB2134 has submitted its recommended version of HB2134, the ballot access bill. This bill had gone to a conference committee after the Senate greatly amended the bill and the House rejected those amendments. The main problem Rep. Echols and other House members had was the potential for a single subject rule based lawsuit over the Senate version.

In this new version of HB2134, the Conference Committee recommends that the party qualification petition language be stripped from the bill and leaves in tact most of the changes to the Presidential petitions for Independent and unqualified party candidates. However, the bill goes a further than the Senate version by further reducing the signature requirements to 1.5% rather than the Senate’s 2.5%. It also leaves in tact the current deadlines rather than the Senate’s reduced deadlines.

Overall, this would be a positive change. Instead of the little over 40,000 signatures needed under current law to get an Independent presidential candidate on the ballot, a little over 20,000 would be all that is needed. According to Ballot Access News, this removes Oklahoma from the worst presidential ballot access space it currently holds. With this change, it is far more likely that Oklahoma would have more than 2 candidates on the 2016 ballot even if no new parties gain recognition in the state.

As of now, the proposal does not appear to have the approval of the Senate side of the Conference Committee. That side is comprised of Senator Marlatt and a few others. With only one week left in the Legislative Session, it is imperative that we convince Senator Marlatt and the rest of the Conference Committee to act on this proposal.

Senate Appoints Conference Committee Members For HB2134

The Senate has now appointed its conference committee members for HB2134. On the House side, the conference committee will be made up of the House Rules Committee, consisting of Representatives Russ, Cooksey, Dorman, Floyd, Quinn, Watson and Wright. The Senate side will consist of Senators Marlatt, Griffin, Holt, Ford, Bass, McAffrey. All voted in favor of HB2134 so that there is little fear that they will turn down whatever compromise comes down the pipe.

While ballot access bills have had a poor track record for conference committees in previous sessions, we have a much higher hope for a positive resolution this year. Representative Echols is very much in favor of getting a good bill pushed through this session and he has high confidence that Senator Marlatt will work closely with him in finding a resolution to the differences in the different versions of the bill. While I have some ideas of what the final bill will look like, I am waiting for an official copy of the bill before making any statements in that regards. I will say that it will likely not be 100% what we want from the bill.

We urge you, if your Representative or Senator is a member of either of this conference committee, to please call them and ask them to find a compromise and pass it through. We will be reaching out to all members of this Conference Committee as well.