Ballot Access Passes Out Of Rules Committee With Amendments

On April 8, HB2181 passed out of the Senate Rules Committee. Unfortunately, the Senate Rules Committee took the route of cowards and amended the bill by changing the 1% petition to a 3% petition. They did keep the language that removed the presidential elections from the calculation.

This is unfortunate because the Senate has pulled this maneuver every time ballot access reform has been introduced. The goal of making these changes is to 1) force the bill to go to a conference committee where the bill can quietly die. 2) claim that they passed ballot access reform but be able to pass the buck to the House, who is more willing to pass real reform, when the bill fails to pass conference when the House stands its ground.

The good news is that the amendment was not passed unanimously. There were at least two no votes on the amendment but possibly more. The Rules Chair, Senator Justice, held a voice vote and determined the votes in favor of the amendment to be the winning vote. It would have been preferable to have a roll vote, but it was not our choice.

The bill finally passed out of the committee on a vote of 11-1 with the loan no vote coming from Senator Floyd. When asked for comment on her no vote, Senator Floyd responded that she voted against the bill because it was not the bill the House passed. Had the bill not been amended, she would have voted for it.

We are working on finding out more information on who voted against the amendment and will report when we know more. Until then, we are working on finding out if we can get a floor amendment introduced when the bill comes up for a vote with the full senate. We would like to see if we can get the original 1% language put back on the bill.

We don’t know how receptive the Senate Leadership will be to a floor amendment of this nature. Chances are, they will not bring it up or it will be voted down but it needs to be brought up. Again, we will let you know when we have more information.

UPDATE: Call Senator Justice’s Office In Support Of HB2181

Update: The call blast when great yesterday. We received quite a few reports of calls going straight to voicemail, which means that we had a lot of people calling. Thank you all so much.

Unfortunately, Senator Justice did not schedule a Rules Committee meeting for this week. That means that we have one week left for HB2181 to be heard in committee. We plan on holding a similar event for both Monday and Tuesday of next week (April 6 and 7). So be prepared to do it all over again. We will get this bill passed to the Senate Floor.

Original post: We need your help convincing Senator Ron Justice, the Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, to let HB2181 be heard in committee.

What is HB2181?
HB2181 reduces the petition requirement to form a new political party in Oklahoma. Current law requires new parties to gather a number of signatures equal to 5% of the last general election vote count. For 2016, the petition requirement to form a new party is 41,188 signatures. If HB2181 were to pass this year, that requirement would be reduced to 1% of the last governor’s election, or 8,249 signatures. This will result in more political parties for voters to register under, more Presidential candidates for voters to choose from and a greater pool of political ideas in this state.

We have 2 weeks left for HB2181 to be heard in committee. If it is not heard and passed by April 9, the bill would be dead and we won’t see any changes to Oklahoma’s laws for another 2 years, and Oklahoma will most likely be the only state in the nation with 2 candidates for President for 4 elections in a row in 2016.

So what do you need to do? On Tuesday March 31 starting at 10am and ending at 12pm (noon), we want to keep Senator Justice’s phone ringing with calls in support of HB2181. For two straight hours, we want nothing to happen in his office if it does not involve a phone call about that bill.

What is his phone number?
(405) 521-5537

Please remember when you call to be courteous and kind. Senator Justice’s Assistant is named Linda Terrill. She is a real nice woman and will be doing her job. And that job will be really tough for 2 hours. Don’t make it more difficult.

Also, be patient. If you don’t get through on the phone right away, hang up and try again after 30 seconds or a minute. Each phone call shouldn’t take too long.

What should you say?

First, tell him your name.

Then, tell Senator Justice that you support HB2181 and you want it heard in committee and passed to the Senate Floor.

That is all you have to say. If you want to say more, keep it relevant to the bill. For example, you can tell them that you support the bill because you want more political parties to choose from in Oklahoma. Or you can say that you want more choices for president than the options given to us by the Republican and Democratic parties.

Most importantly, tell him that HB2181 must pass.

So to recap:

What? Call Senator Justice’s office. (405) 521-5537
When? March 31, 2015 from 10am to 12pm (noon)
Why? In support of HB2181.

Read HB2181 here.

If you want to learn more about why Oklahoma needs to reform its ballot access laws, please read our brief.

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Ballot Access Bill Advances To The Senate

On March 10, 2015, the Oklahoma House passed Speaker Hickman’s ballot access reform bill, HB2181, on a vote of 90-0. There were no abstaining members of the House, all members present voted in favor of the bill. This is the most support a ballot access bill has ever had in the Oklahoma House.

In 2014, HB2134 passed the House on a vote of 74-11. In 2011, HB1058 passed the House on a vote of 69-17. In 2009, HB1072 passed the House on a vote of 86-5. While all these bills passed the House, those that made it through the Senate ended up in Conference Committee where the bills died.

HB2181 would reduce the petitioning burden for new political parties by changing the current requirement of 5% of the last general election to 1% of the last election for Governor. This is a change from about 41,000 signatures to about 8,200 signatures. This reduction in signatures to form a new party will improve Oklahoma’s political climate as well as open the Oklahoma Presidential ballot to alternative candidates from parties that had been blocked from Oklahoma voters in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

Now that HB2181 has passed the House, it has moved to the Senate where Senator Quinn will be working to get it through the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Floor. We are working to insure that this bill is not amended during this process as we need it to advance and pass this year. No previous bill has ever been able to survive the Senate without amendments, so we hope this one will be the first.

In order for this to happen, we need to put pressure on the Senate Rules Committee, particularly with the Committee Chair, Senator Justice, to pass this bill now and do so without amendment. We ask that if your Senator is on this committee that you call them and ask them to vote in favor of the bill as it stands. We also ask that you take time to call Senator Justice’s office and ask him to hear the bill now rather than wait.

The Senate Rules Committee has until April 9 to vote on the bill. However, the Rules Committee does not have regularly scheduled meetings. The Committee only meets when the Chair wants them to meet. That means if Senator Justice does not want to advance any bill, he can just avoid holding a meeting.

So again, we ask that you call your Senator if they are a member of the Rules Committee and also call Senator Justice and express your support for HB2181 and ask that it be heard in committee and passed to the Senate Floor.

If you would like to learn more about why this reform is needed and prepare yourself for potential questions about the bill, you can read our Ballot Access Brief.

Libertarian Party Of Oklahoma Seeks Ballot Access

This past Friday, the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma filed the necessary form needed to begin collecting signatures toward ballot access for their party. The Libertarian Party has not been a ballot qualified party since 2000 and if they can succeed, they will be able to place their candidate for President on the ballot in 2016.

According to their press release, they are aware of the difficulty ahead of them.

The Libertarian Party of Oklahoma recognizes the fact that current Oklahoma law requires us to gather well over 41,000 valid signatures. This process requirement, while the lowest raw signature requirement in Oklahoma in over 20 years, is still one of the most strict party petitioning laws in the US.

They also retain hope that the legislature will pass HB2181 which would greatly reduce the signatures they need to gather.

The OKLP is starting this process in the hope that the Legislature does something in hasn’t been able to do since 1974, voluntarily reduce the petition burden for new political parties. This year, Speaker Hickman has introduced HB2181 which would reduce the number of signatures needed to form a new party from the current 5% of the last general election to 1% of the last election for governor. We support this bill and are seeking its passage into law this year.

If HB2181 is passed and signed into law, our petition requirement would fall from 41,000 signatures to just over 8,200 signatures. This brings Oklahoma closer in line with the national and regional averages for party petitioning.

They are also asking for help in gathering signatures. They have set up a page with instructions on how signatures need to be gathered on their website.

We are excited by this news and wish the Libertarian Party, and any other party that is going to seek ballot access the best of luck.

Legislative Brief: The Case For Ballot Access Reform In Oklahoma

Oklahomans For Ballot Access Reform has published our Ballot Access Brief highlighting the evidence in favor of a number of reforms Oklahoma needs to make in order to bring about fair, free and equal elections.

In this brief, we present poll data and voting results which shows that voters throughout the US and in Oklahoma are falling out of favor with the two duopoly parties and wish to see a new party rise.

We then discuss the need and evidence in support of the following reforms:

  • Reducing or eliminating the petition signature requirement to form a new party
  • Extending the length of time a new party is recognized
  • Reducing the number of votes required to retain party recognition
  • Reducing or eliminating the petition signature requirement to place an Independent Presidential candidate on the ballot
  • Adding a write-in option to state election ballots
  • Repealing the straight-party voting option on state election ballots
  • Removing the names of Presidential Electors from the ballot

Finally we address the objections many people make when defending Oklahoma’s current harsh ballot access laws.

We feel that this brief will be an important tool in reforming Oklahoma’s laws and make it easier for citizens of Oklahoma to exercise their right to form and join any party of their choosing and vote for their favored candidates.

We ask that all of you read this brief and share it with your friends, family and most importantly your state Representative and Senator.

Read the brief, The Case For Ballot Access Reform In Oklahoma, below or download the pdf.

Three Ballot Access Reform Bills Introduced This Session

The Oklahoma Legislature has introduced a number of bills designed to changed the way Oklahoma runs its elections, and other areas of interest to OBAR. I want to take a quick look at these bills and explain what makes them good or what could be improved. In this first article, we look at the ballot access reform bills introduced.

There are three bills introduced this year that will reduce the number of signatures new parties need to form a new party. This has been a key reform OBAR and its supporters have been working toward for years. Under all three of these bills, the petition process will be greatly eased.

The first is HB1813 introduced by Representative Proctor. This bill reduces the number of signatures a new party would need from 5% of the last election to a flat 5,000 signatures. The second bill is HB2181 introduced by Representative Hickman. This bill reduces the number of signatures needed to form a new party to 1% of the last election.

The final bill is a little more complicated. It is SB318 introduced by Senator Holt. This one has a number of changes to various procedures. The two biggest and most import changes is that it reduces the petition for a new party from 5% to 2% of the last election and it reduces the petition to get an Independent Presidential candidate on the ballot from 3% to 2% of the last Presidential election. However, this bill also makes a number of other changes some of which could be problematic.

The first is that it adds a provision that allows newly formed parties the ability to terminate its recognition with the state. This amendment stems from the Americans Elect party which gained recognition in 2012 but did not run any candidates. Members of the state party attempted to get a candidate on the ballot but the state blocked their nomination because the national party decided not to nominate a candidate.

The bill then makes a number of other changes regarding presidential candidates and electors. First, it sets a deadline of 70 days prior to the November election for recognized parties to certify its President and Vice President candidates. This places the deadline in late August of most years. The most problematic change is that this bill changes the deadline for petitions for Independent candidates for President from July 15 to July 1 of the election year. This provision also changes the deadline for the submission of electors for these candidates from September 1 to August 15. These date changes are likely an attempt to align the deadlines for Independent candidates with those of recognized parties. Recognized parties have a deadline of 90 days prior to the election which places it in the first week of August. However, earlier petition deadlines have been problematic in the past and many states have lost lawsuits based around early deadlines.

What these bills do not address is the very high retention process for new parties. Oklahoma requires new parties to earn 10% of the vote for governor and president to retain party status. That is the second highest in the nation. All states surrounding Oklahoma have a retention requirement ranging from 1% of the vote for any statewide office to 3% of the vote for governor. Nor do these bills increase the time a party is recognized. Five of the six states surrounding Oklahoma recognize new parties for 4 years, meaning they only have to meet the vote test every other election. Without this change, it doesn’t matter what the petition requirement is, new parties will be forced to petition before every election.

Next, these bills, and primarily SB318, do not create a fee in lieu of petition for President. The office of President is the only office on the ballot that does not allow for the candidates to pay a fee rather than circulate a petition. It is our opinion that a fee should be introduced.

Finally, these bills do not agree on the number of signatures needed to form a new party. The biggest issue is that the Senate and House versions do not agree. This has been a very big barrier to passage in the past. It is clear that one of these needs to change. While we would love to see the signature requirement reduced to 5,000 signatures, that bill was introduced by a Democrat in a Republican controlled House and has a far tougher time at being heard. Rep. Hickman’s bill is more likely to make it to the House floor. So the trick would be to convince the Senate to lower their bill to 1%. If we can get them to lower the Presidential petitions to 1% as well, that would be even better.

We support these bills, even with the issues mentioned. We ask that you email, call and/or write your State Representative and Senator and ask them to support the passage of ballot access reform this year.

Republicans Out Number Democrats In Oklahoma, Independents Still Growing Fastest

Voter Registrations as of January 2015Yesterday, the Oklahoma Election Board released the official 2015 voter registration stats for Oklahoma. This new data shows that Republicans officially outnumber Democrats in the state.

As of January 15th, 2015, Republicans have 886,153 registered voters while Democrats have 882,866 voters, a difference of 3,467 voters. This continues the trend of more Oklahomans choosing to register as Republicans while fewer are sticking with the Democratic party.

However, what is not getting much exposure in the media is that Independent registrations are growing at a much faster rate than the Republican party. While Republicans have seen a 3.7% increase over last year’s registrations, Independents have seen a 9.44% increase. The 10 year increase is similarly stacked in favor of Independents, with 7.78% increase for Republicans and a 15.08% increase for Independents.

The Oklahoma Democratic Party has had a worse time as of late. They lost 0.33% registrations since last year and 19.77% registrations in the last 10 years.

While raw numbers still have Independents trailing far behind the duopoly parties, the fact that they are growing at a consistently  faster rate bodes well for Oklahoma politics. As Independent registrations grow, it will be harder and harder for the Legislature to ignore the needs and desires of Independent voters and the parties they wish to form.

Finally, if we average the rate of change over the last 20 years and project these numbers out to 2025, we see some major shifts. This assumes that nothing else changes in Oklahoma, just voter registrations. In this projection, by 2025 we will have a split of 33% Democrats, 46% Republicans and 21% Independents.

2014 Was A Good Year For Ballot Access Reform; 2015 Will Be Better

Last year, we posted our expectations for the 2014 with hope that great strides would be made for Ballot Access Reform and for Independents. Unfortunately, not all we had hoped to come to pass did, but we did see some major improvements.

First off, the biggest news to come of the year was the fact that 2014 was the first time in Reform history that the Senate and the House agreed on language for party ballot access. HB2134 made it through the house with a 2.5% petitioning requirement. That language was then taken up by the Senate, which actually kept it. Unfortunately, they made other changes that forced the bill to go to a Conference Committee, which promptly sat on it and it died.

Along with that, we gained a great ally in this fight. HB2134 was championed through the Legislature by Representative Jon Echols. He was instrumental in maintaining the 2.5% language throughout the whole process. He is really gungho about ballot access reform and is looking to introduce bills that reform party access as well as presidential petitions and initiative petitions. He is really excited about this and we are going to be working hard on this issue with him.

In other news, SB76, the bill that would have doubled candidate filing fees, was killed by the House. They thankfully recognized that it was a harmful bill and chose to let it die. Hopefully we will not see a repeat of that bill in 2015.

In unfortunate news, Oklahoma adopted the Ethics Commission’s proposed rules for campaign finance reform. To make it worse, the Legislature passed a bill that turned over all campaign finance rule making over to the Commission. This means that 2016 will be a difficult year for Independent candidates to raise as much money as their Republican and Democratic party competition. We would like to see this addressed in the coming session.

In more positive news, HB2134’s original author, Representative Jeff Hickman, was elected to the office of House Speaker. In addition to that, Rep Hickman created a new Ethics and Elections Committee that will be reviewing all bills in those regards. These events will most likely result in a friendlier climate for ballot access reform in 2015.

This year also saw more news organizations joining the fight for ballot access reform. The Tulsa World and News 9 posting positive news and editorials indicating the need for ballot access reform for both political parties and initiative petitions.

In addition to those news organizations, we also have a new ally in the Oklahoma Policy Institute. They have done a lot of work to highlight various policy problems in the state and they have jumped in with both feet in the fight to reform Oklahoma’s election laws including ballot access reform.

Finally, we did not see as many Independent Candidates running for office in the 2014 elections as we had hoped. We also saw record low voter turnout in this past election as well. However, there is good news to come from this. This low voter turn out means that party and initiative petitioners will need some of the lowest number of signatures in many decades.

With all this news, we are extremely positive about 2015. We feel confident that with our new allies in the media, policy watchdogs and in the Legislature this could be the year that the petitioning requirement for political parties will finally be reduced. While we may not get the 5,000 signatures we want and deserve, we will likely reduce it to something actually manageable.

So we wish you all a happy 2015 and we look forward to this being a great year for all supporters of free and equal elections.

AG Pruitt Gets It So Very Wrong On Petitioning In Oklahoma

Ballot Access Reform is gaining more and more allies everyday. We have the media, think tanks, many people and political organizations on our side. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more clear that we will have few friends in leadership positions in our own state government. Thankfully, many of those leaders are outing themselves as ignorant on the issue of ballot access reform. The latest political leader to get ballot access wrong is Oklahoma’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

In a recent op-ed in the Tulsa World, AG Pruitt spoke at length about his lawsuit against Colorado over its citizen led and passed legalization of marijuana. Buried in that op-ed was a nice nugget of ignorance of ballot access.

In Oklahoma, for example, where it’s relatively easy to get a state question on the ballot (ask any voter who’s had to navigate a host of such questions on Election Day), a recent well-funded and well-organized effort to get a marijuana legalization question on the ballot managed to garner a meager 75,000 signatures — less than half the number needed, and a number that equates to less than 2 percent of Oklahoma’s population. In other words, Oklahoma’s people have spoken loud and clear: They believe marijuana to be a harmful drug that shouldn’t be legal in any circumstance.

There is so much wrong with this statement that I will have to break it apart and rebut it piece by piece. First up:

In Oklahoma, for example, where it’s relatively easy to get a state question on the ballot

This is so wrong on many levels. Oklahoma’s initiative process is not all easy. News 9 recently ran an article that compared Oklahoma’s initiative process to other states in the nation. They found that Oklahoma consistently requires more signatures and shorter time frames for gathering them than surrounding states.

(ask any voter who’s had to navigate a host of such questions on Election Day)

How about instead of asking the voters, who may not know if a question got there via initiative petition or not, and ask the State Legislature that in reality fills the ballot with questions. This past election had a remarkable three questions on it. All three were put there by the Legislature. 2012 saw six state questions, all put there by the Legislature. 2010 had an astounding ten questions, only one of which was via initiative petition. That particular one only made it because it was funded by national teachers unions, who are very wealthy and quite skilled in petitioning. So AG Pruitt, what was that you said about the ease of getting a question on the ballot?

a recent well-funded and well-organized effort to get a marijuana legalization question on the ballot managed to garner a meager 75,000 signatures — less than half the number needed, and a number that equates to less than 2 percent of Oklahoma’s population.

Now, let’s be clear here. I do not know a lot about the actual organizations who ran the two marijuana petitions this year. But from all accounts, neither one was very well organized or funded. Both were run by novice petition organizers and did not have the roughly $1 million needed to successfully run a petition drive in such a short time span.

But on to the real meat of this chunk. This particular petition drive he refers to gathered 75,000 signatures. He talks about how this is somehow impressive. However, he is referring to raw signatures, not valid signatures. The Secretary of State’s office does not validate signatures unless the number turned in meets or exceeds the required number. According to the Secretary of State’s rules, if a petition is challenged, the signatures collected will be validated. (thanks to Norma Sapp for the correction)Generally, between 30 and 50% of signatures will be invalidated in one way or another. So these 75,000 signatures would have likely ended up as many as 50,000 and as few as 40,000 valid signatures. That is a lot further from the required goal than Pruitt leads on.

In other words, Oklahoma’s people have spoken loud and clear: They believe marijuana to be a harmful drug that shouldn’t be legal in any circumstance.

Here AG Pruitt makes the mistake of conflating petition response to actual voters at the polls. This is not at all an indication of the will of the people. Petitions can fail for a variety of reasons but it is not until a petition succeeds and makes it on the ballot that the voice of the people is actually heard. That did not happen in this case. The people of Oklahoma never got the chance to vote on the issue.

So with this much disinformation in a single quote, it is clear that those seeking to reform Oklahoma’s petitioning requirements will not find an ally in our Attorney General.

Ballot Access Reform Has A New Ally In Oklahoma Policy Institute

Momentum is building for change in Oklahoma’ election laws. Every election in recent years has seen fewer voters than elections before it. Fewer people are running for office. We are stuck with the two party duopoly we have had for decades. However, every year more and more people join the fight to open up Oklahoma’s elections.

The latest ally in this fight is the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Yesterday, OKPI published their latest issue brief, Repairing Oklahoma’s Broken Democracy. In this brief, OKPI discusses the various problems stemming from Oklahoma’s laws such as low voter turnout, low voter registration, low number of candidates and more. They also propose a number of solutions that we at Oklahomans For Ballot  Access Reform can get behind.

These reforms include:

  • Voter Information Pamphlets
  • Online Voter Registration
  • Extended Mail-in Voting
  • Ballot Access Reform
  • Open Primaries
  • Instant Run-off Primaries

If you want to learn more, you can download the executive summary or the full brief. It is well worth the read and definitely something to share with your Representative and Senator in the Oklahoma Legislature.