Last week, the House let HB2134 die for the year. Had it passed HB2134, the law governing the signature requirement to form a new party would have gone from a 5% of the last general election requirement to a flat 5,000 signature requirement. This would have returned Oklahoma law to how it was prior to 1974. Yet, due to some unwillingness from Speaker Shannon, HB2134 never got a floor vote despite passing the Rules Committee unanimously.
So what is left for Oklahoma voters? There are still two bills alive and kicking that we are keeping our eyes on. The first is a similar bill to HB2134. SB668 passed the Senate unanimously and is now waiting for action from the House. Under SB668′s language, the signature requirements to form a new party would no longer take into consideration the Presidential elections, only the Governor elections. What this would do is bring about consistency between elections, but would not bring about much relief to new parties.
As you look back through recent elections, you will find that in Presidential election years, years in which parties would form based on the last Governor election, new parties were not able to form and gain access to the Presidential ballot. This language is the primary reason why Oklahoma has been the only state in the nation to give its voters only two choices for President for three elections in a row.
Despite these complaints, there is value in allowing SB668 to go forward as currently written. First, recent Legislative Sessions have shown that the Senate is unwilling to pass anything that goes lower than 5%. This stance has prevented a number of bills from going to the Governor to be signed into law. Next, we have Speaker Shannon’s stance that ballot access reform is not a priority. We are not sure if the specific reform found in HB2134 was not a priority or just ballot access reform in general. Letting SB668 go to the House Floor for a vote would show that reform itself is a priority but Speaker Shannon doesn’t support a genuinely lower requirement to form a new party. Finally, passing SB668 as is would open the door to future reform efforts as the Legislature would have a changed mindset toward reform efforts. This psychological opposition to reform would be weakened after the passage of SB668 and any future complaints and opposition would not be as strong.
SB668 has not yet been assigned to a House committee for review. When it does, it will most likely go to the Rules Committee which has shown its support already for reform. After that, it will need to pass the Calendar Committee before getting a floor vote. Hopefully, we will see it pass out of both without issue. Representative Watson, the House sponsor of the bill, is on the Rules Committee so he will most likely be advocating for its passage soon.
The other bill that we are concerned about is SB76. SB76 would double the filing fees for all elected offices in Oklahoma. This fee, as far as we can tell, is not needed in the state. An increased fee to run for office will result in nothing but a reduction in people running for office. In the last election, less than 50% of all Oklahoma legislative seats had a November election. All other seats were either unopposed or settled in a primary election. With so few people running for office, why would anyone support further reduction?
SB76 has already been assigned to a committee for a hearing. It has been assigned to the House Appropriations and Budget committee but will most likely be assigned to one of the subcommittees, either the General Government or the Revenue and Taxation subcommittee. Representative Russ, the House Sponsor of the bill, is on the General Government Subcommittee so it is likely to go there, however, the bill does increase fees so that falls under the purview of the Revenue and Taxation committee. We will likely find more information soon.
That is where we stand at this point in the Legislative Session. What we need from you at this point is to contact your Representatives and ask them to support the passage of SB668 and to oppose SB76.