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.

Oklahoma House Forms New Committee On Elections And Ethics

In an announcement on Facebook, Representative Paul Wesselhoft, Republican District 54, announced that he had just been appointed to a new committee in the House.

It is my honor and responsibility to be appointed by Speaker Hickman to the Chairmanship of an important new Committee on Elections and Ethics.

I have several reform bills that I hope to pass that will improve the election process and the ethics and requirements of candidates.

This will be a busy year for me; and I am eager to make a significant contribution to Oklahoma. If you have suggestions, I am always open to them. I am looking for partners, you, to help me reform elections & ethics. Thanks.

This is a first for Oklahoma as far as I know. With this committee, all election and ethics related bills will be going to his committee. This means that a lot of bills, such as those seeking to reform Oklahoma’s ballot access laws, will be going here rather than to the Rules Committee.

While it is still too early to see what kind of impact this will have in the coming session, it is a huge step forward. We also will be watching Rep Wesselhoft in this position. While he is active in a number of independent groups on Facebook, he has a mixed record when it comes to ballot reform bills. He voted for HB2134 in 2014, but he voted against similar bills in 2011 and 2009.

On the plus side, the Vice Chair is Representative Donnie Condit, Democrat District 18. He has voted for HB2134 in 2014 and the 2011 bill. He was not in office when the 2009 bill was up for a vote. This also means that the committee has at the start a good bi-partisan mix of representation.

We will keep you posted on what happens in this committee.

The Oklahoman Published Editorial About Ballot Access In 2016

Last Month, we wrote about how Oklahoma’s low voter turnout is good news for petitioners in 2016. Shortly after, the Oklahoman published an editorial that references that article, although without a link. In this editorial, the Oklahoman Editorial Board agrees that this is good news, but that the burden is still too high.

In talking about the failed petitions from this past election cycle, the Oklahoman states that voter turnout might have been higher had they made it to the ballot.

We termed this a “glimmer” of good news because it’s only that — a slight opening in the brick wall that prevents most initiative petitions and alternative candidacies from reaching the ballot. Imagine the increase in turnout had referenda involving school storm shelters and marijuana law liberalization made the 2014 ballot.

Instead, Oklahoma’s overly burdensome ballot access requirements helped limit the referenda list to three noncontroversial state questions that had been advanced by the Legislature rather than petition organizers.

They state that the signature burden and the limited time to gather those signatures needs reformed.

What is burdensome in Oklahoma is ballot access. Not only do initiative petitions require too many signatures, but the circulation period is limited to 90 days. More time is needed.

Finally, the note that 2016 could be the fourth election in a row without an alternative Presidential Candidate on the ballot.

Knight says that without access reform, 2016 will be the fourth consecutive presidential election in which no alternative party nominees will be on the Oklahoma ballot. Oklahoma is the only state in which a new or previously unqualified party needs support from more than 2 percent of votes cast in the previous general election.

If the threshold were 1 percent, the Libertarian Party’s next presidential nominee would make the 2016 ballot because a Libertarian candidate for governor this year got nearly 2 percent of the vote.

It is good news that Oklahoma largest newspaper has not turned its back on its 2012 editorial in which it called out Oklahoma’s harsh ballot access laws.

In Which We Respond To Comments To Our Letter To The Editor

Over the weekend, we had a letter to the editor published to both NewsOK and at the Tulsa World. Both sites, published the letter with little modifications. The letter itself is mostly a rehash of our earlier article about Oklahoma’s low voter turnout and its impact on future petitions. It also called for real reform to pass.

However, there was one problem. I wanted to respond to a comment on the Tulsa World which I felt poorly reflected on the current petitioning climate. Tulsa World reader J. Lee wrote:

It appears that many people don’t really care what happens. But that is absolutely no reason to lower the party petitioning burden especially to what it was 40-50 years ago since the population has increased over a million since that time.

Any entity which lowers it standards to appease a few will eventually be left with no standards.

What J. Lee wrote here does a real disservice to those seeking to form a new party in Oklahoma. It is based on the false premise that Oklahoma’s petitioning laws and the change in 1974 was based on some actual reasoning based on population. That is not true at all.

The problem with this is that the Tulsa World’s commenting policy prevents me from responding to this comment directly. The Tulsa World wants me to pay nearly $200 just to comment on articles of interest. That is not happening. So instead, I am responding here in the hopes that interested people will read it and misinformation will be cleared away. If anyone out there has a subscription or still has commenting enabled because they have not reached their monthly ration of articles, feel free to respond to J. Lee with the following:

Let me lay out a few facts for you. I hope that I won’t have to explain any of this too much.

Population of Oklahoma:
1970 – 2,559,063
2010 – 3,751,351
Percent Changed – 46.6%

Voting Population of Oklahoma:
1972 Presidential Election (last election before new rules went into effect) – 1,057,396
2012 Presidential Election (most recent similar election) – 1,334,872
Percent Changed – 26.2%

1974 party petitioning requirement – 5,000 signatures or 0.47% of the 1972 vote
2014 party petitioning requirement – 66,744 or 5% of the vote cast in 2012
Percent Changed – 1,235%

If we wanted to adjust the number of signatures needed to form a new party based on population, then we would have this amount:
5,000 plus a 46.6% change = 7,330 signatures today.

However, if we base it off of voting population, we would get this number:
5,000 plus a 26.2% change = 6,310

Both of those calculations are far far smaller than the current signature requirement that is 1235% higher than it was in 1972.

So do you want to rethink your position?

Again, I would love to respond myself. When I aired my issues with the Tulsa World on Twitter, their only response was to upsell me on a subscription. They offered no real solution. I guess, if anyone wants a real conversation on a news site, they will have to go with NewsOK where all you need is a free account to read everything and comment to all articles.

Libertarian Party Ballot Access Gains Highlights Oklahoma’s Harsh Retention Test

In a blog post on the Libertarian Party’s website, the LP announces that it has gained or retained ballot access in 30 states across the nation. Among these states are almost all of Oklahoma’s neighbors Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Missouri. The only state missing is Arkansas. The Libertarian candidate for Governor of Arkansas, Frank Gilbert, received 1.92% of the vote which fell short of the 3% requirement. (Update: We mistakenly forgot Arkansas at the time of publishing.)

In addition to this news, this report highlights just how ridiculous Oklahoma’s ballot access retention test is. If a party manages to successfully petition to get on the ballot, a feat few parties are able to attain, in order to retain that access for a second election, the party would need to field a candidate for the top ticket, Governor or President, and earn 10% of the vote for that election.

This past governor’s election, there was one Independent candidate that is a member of the Libertarian Party, Richard Prawdzienski. He gained 1.1% of the vote, far below what would be required had the Libertarian Party had ballot access in Oklahoma. However, in many states across the nation, 1% is all that is needed to retain ballot access.

You can see by the LP’s blog post. They gained access in the following states that only require 1% of the vote Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Additionally, many states do not require a percentage of the vote on the top ticket. Several states have other requirements. For example, Idaho only requires a party to field 3 or more candidates in state or federal offices. Other states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia, require a percentage of votes cast for other seats or combination of seats.

Of the three states in which the the LP did not retain ballot access, all three have much easier retention rules than Oklahoma. Iowa requires only 2% of the vote cast for Governor, New York requires 50,000 votes, and Illinois requires 5% for Comptroller.

All this illustrates that reforming Oklahoma’s petitioning requirement is not enough. We also need to reform Oklahoma’s party retention test. Prior to 1974, the test was only 1% of the vote cast for Governor or President. We need to return to that as well. It would also be good to change the vote test to only be required every four years rather than every election.

If these rules could be changed, Oklahoma voters would have a far better election climate.

Oklahoma’s Low Voter Turnout Is Good News For Party Petitioners

Voter Turnout As A Percentage Of VotersAs votes are counted following Oklahoma’s 2014 election, one thing is clear, Oklahoma has had one of its worst voter turnout rates in well over 20 years. Based on current data available (voter registrations, election results) from the Oklahoma Election Board, less than 41% of voters turned out to vote for governor.

While this low voter turnout has severe repercussions for Oklahoma’s political climate, with many elections decided at filing or in the primaries. It also means that the governor of Oklahoma was chosen by less than 25% of Oklahoma’s registered voters.

However, there is a bright side to this low number. Those seeking to form a new political party or circulate an initiative petition will need far fewer signatures to be successful in the run up to the next election in 2016.

Based on current voter turnout numbers, to form a new party in Oklahoma for the 2016 Presidential election, those circulating the petition will need only 41,188 signatures, compared to the 51,738 signatures needed in the run up to the 2012 Presidential election. That is a decrease of 10,550 signatures, or a decrease of 20.4%. Similar trends can be found for initiative petitions. This is the fewest raw signatures needed since the lead up to the 2000 Presidential election and the 1984 Presidential election before it.

This means two things. The first is that one or more new parties could be on the ballot in 2016. It also means that petitions that failed this year, could make it on the ballot two years from now. This is a great time to be a petitioner in Oklahoma.

Major News Outlets Coming Out Against Oklahoma’s Petitioning Process

This year, three citizen initiative petitions kicked off to change Oklahoma’s laws. Two dealt with legalization of marijuana while the third dealt with school storm shelter funding. All three had a lot of support behind them, but all fell short of their signature goals.

In what is a clear consensus from supporters and observers of the petitioning process, the problem lies in the actual process itself. Oklahoma has some very strict rules regulating the petitioning process. We have seen and reported on this in regards to political parties for a while, but the problem doesn’t end there.

Oklahoma has three types of initiative petitions that allow citizens to get a question on the ballot, one to get an Constitutional Amendment on the ballot, one to amend state statute, and one as a referendum on legislation passed in the previous session. The signature requirements for each of these is a percentage of the last gubernatorial election, 15% for a constitutional amendment, 8% for a statute, and 5% for a referendum. But very few petitions are able to make it to the ballot.

In a report on the failure of this years petitions, News 9 of OKC wrote a comparison of Oklahoma’s petitioning laws and those of surrounding states, finding Oklahoma’s rules far more difficult.

Both Take Shelter Oklahoma and Medical Marijuana were initiatives for Constitutional Change. In Oklahoma that requires 15% of the gubernatorial vote, or just over 155,000 signatures, collected in 90 days.

Texas requires 10% of the vote collected in 180 days.

Arkansas requires 10% or 78,000 signatures to be collected in a time frame that’s unlimited.

Missouri requires 8% or about 157,000 signatures and the time frame varies but it could be up to 17 months.

Colorado asks for 5% of the total votes cast for the Secretary of State which is just over 86,000 signatures which must be collected six months.

The report also alludes to the need to change the rules, with comments from both Democratic Governor Nominee Joe Dorman and Governor Mary Fallin.

Additionally, The Oklahoman published an editorial in direct support for changing the process.

In Oklahoma, efforts to amend the state constitution require petition backers to gather signatures equal to 15 percent of the turnout for the last gubernatorial election — in this case, about 155,000 signatures. And they have just 90 days to gather them, the second-shortest period in the United States.

That’s too steep a hill to climb, as history shows. The only three statewide initiatives that have gotten to the ballot in the past 15 years sought to outlaw cockfighting (approved by voters in 2002), increase the state’s gasoline tax (rejected in 2005) and pump hundreds of millions of additional dollars into common education (rejected in 2010).

Six years ago Kent Meyers, a veteran Oklahoma City attorney with vast experience involving initiative petitions, told us he was concerned the process was becoming “inaccessible, except to the very few.” He was talking about the costs involved — groups can easily spend in excess of $2 million trying to get a petition from start to finish.

The last time the petitioning process was altered was in 2010, when a state question was posed to remove the presidential elections from the calculation. While this added a stabilizing effect to the number of signatures needed, it failed to address the two largest issues, the shear number of signatures needed and the minimal amount of time supporters have to gather them.

Just as Oklahoma’s party petitioning laws need to change to make the process easier, so does Oklahoma’s initiative petition process. We support a decrease in the number of signatures needed and an increase in the time allotted to gather them. Based on discussions with those who follow this process, one good suggestion is to decrease the signatures needed by half and increase the time to at least 12 months. This makes the process much easier and less reliant on wealthy special interests, while still acting as a buffer on less serious petitions.

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

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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.