HB2134 Passes Senate With Major Amendments; Mostly Positive

Oklahoma is one more step closer to joining the first world when it comes to ballot access laws. The Oklahoma Senate has finally passed HB2134, the ballot access bill that reduced the number of signatures needed to form a new party from 5% of the last general election to 2.5%. However, the Senate couldn’t resist making major modifications to the bill. Fortunately, they are mostly positive. Yet, with these amendments in place, the bill must go back to the House for a confirmation vote.

The bill passed the Senate with a very narrow vote of 28-16. The Senators voting against the bill were 15 Republicans, Allen, Brecheen, Newberry, Standridge, Anderson, Brown, Schulz, Sykes, David, Shortey, and Treat , and one Democrat, Ballenger. We are sending emails to each of these Senators asking them why they voted against the bill.

On the amendment front, the bill keeps the 2.5% requirement the House passed and adds the following (PDF):

  • It adds a provision allowing political parties to voluntarily terminate their status as recognized parties. This may have been introduced in response to the Americans Elect Party as it had requested removal in many other states. Currently, the only way to lose recognized statues is to not field a candidate for the top ballot line, President or Governor, or to fail to reach the 10% vote test.
  • It adds a new deadline for recognized parties to certify the names of the candidates for President and Vice President. This deadline is 70 days before the general election. The current 90 day deadline for certified Electors is still in place. This gives some leeway for parties to hold Presidential primaries after holding elections for Electors.
  • It reduces the number of signatures for uncommitted and Independent Presidential candidate petitions from the current 3% of the last Presidential election to 2.5% of the same. It is not much of a change but does bring it inline with the party petition process.
  • It reduces the amount of time to gather signatures for Presidential petitions. The current deadline is July 15 and the amendment changes that to July 1. The names of Presidential Electors are due by August 15 rather than September 1.
  • It adds a process that disqualifies Presidential Electors if they fail to vote for the candidate they were pledged to vote for.

All in all, the deadline changes and the faithless elector addition are the only negatives about the amendment. The rest of the amendments are a great improvement over the current process. While this still places Oklahoma at the wrong end of the spectrum for ballot access, we are at least not so far at the bottom. As it currently stands, we would still be one of the toughest states to form a new party and get an Independent Presidential Candidate on the ballot.

There were quite a few questions posed about the bill. Senator Marlatt did a great job at describing why these changes are needed. He described how Oklahoma is one of the worst states in the nation for forming a new party and that we have not had more than two candidates for President for 3 elections. He also talked about how other states in our region have far more lax requirements for forming a new party. Senator Constance Johnson asked a number of questions about the faithless elector provision, but that was the bulk of the questioning.

With the amendments filed and passed, the bill must now go back to the House. We are going to be getting in touch with Rep. Echols to find out what he thinks of the amendments and what his plans are for the bill. If we can get this bill passed as is, it would be an incredible moment for us.

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Our Condolences To Voters In Single Candidate Districts

Now that the 2014 candidate filing period is over, we have a better idea of what the coming months of campaigning are going to be like. Unfortunately, things are not looking up for fans of political engagement.

One of the biggest points of worry is the vast number of seats that have no competition at all. Of course, not everyone feels this is a negative. The Tulsa World has published an editorial in which they applaud the vast number of seats that received no challenge during the filing period.

Filing for political office wrapped up Friday, meaning the campaign season has started.

Before things get too involved in that debate, we would like to take a minute to congratulate the candidates who have already won —— those who brought no opposition in the election.

Whether because their credibility with the public is so substantial, their political presence is so daunting or their opposition so disorganized, a lot of officeholders were guaranteed another term in office, which deserves public acknowledgement.

They close the editorial in much the same way.

But before that gets rolling, we congratulate the ones who have already won. Your willingness to lead the community and serve the people is laudable. You have our thanks and our best wishes.

But is this really something that is worthy of applause or congratulations? When we look at the numbers, we really don’t see anything worth congratulating.

Of the five US Congress seats, one received no competition. District 1 Rep. Jim Bridenstine will be able to take his seat in Washington with no real effort or challenge. On the state level, we have 8 uncontested Senate seats and 50 uncontested House seats. That is 46% of all state legislative seats.

When we add in the 4 Senate and 14 House seats that will be decided in Oklahoma’s closed partisan primaries. This means that 57% of Oklahoma’s legislative seats will be decided without the approval of the vast majority of their voters.

Is it really any wonder why Oklahoma has such low voter engagement?

On a more positive note, there are the three major statewide elections that will allow for a lot of civil engagement with voters. We have very active races for both US Senate seats and the Governor. All three races have candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties and from Independents.

But for all those voters in US Congressional District 1 and all those voters from the state legislative districts with no November election we express our condolences. We wish you the best in coming years. We know it must be difficult to not have any say in who represents you.

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Tulsa World Joins Daily Oklahoman In Expressing Support For Ballot Access Reform

Support for ballot access reform is growing in Oklahoma. For many years, we have fought to reduce the burden posed to those who wish to form new parties in Oklahoma. As of today, Oklahoma’s top two newspapers have expressed their support for easing Oklahoma’s worst in the nation ballot access laws.

The Tulsa World has published an editorial in which they express support for HB2134, the bill that reduces the 5% signature burden to 2.5%.

Currently, parties seeking recognition have to obtain the signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the most recent general election. That currently works out to 66,744 petition signatures.

House Bill 2134 would cut that requirement in half.

Why do they support this measure? Because they recognize that the rising generation is moving further away from the current duopoly parties.

Political thinking is changing. The next generation of voters is not nearly as loyal to the traditional two-party system as their grandparents were. Independent voters are the fastest growing segment of the state voting pool. Many young voters want boutique parties molded to their specific political thinking rather than big-tent parties based on broad principles and old loyalties.

However, the Tulsa World does express some interest in keeping some burden in place. They feel that too low a barrier could lead to a glut of “marginal, schismatic groups”, but that should not stand in the way of reasonable accommodations.

We support lowering the standard for party recognition. We don’t want the number so low that it will produce a flowering of marginal, schismatic groups with no hope of ever electing a candidate, but reasonable accommodations of new modes of political thought could engage new voters and force the two big parties to make sure they are addressing issues of importance to all Oklahomans.

We are not clear exactly where the Tulsa World feels that line should be drawn. Even if HB2134 becomes law, Oklahoma would still have the highest burden in the nation for forming a new party or getting a candidate on the Presidential ballot. No other state has more than a 2% requirement. Additionally, in the decades prior to 1974, where the signature burden was 5,000 signatures, Oklahoma never saw more than 5 candidates for Governor or President. So even something easier than 2.5% would theoretically meet the Tulsa World requirements.

At this point, both the Tulsa World and the Daily Oklahoman have expressed support for these much needed reforms. In December 2012 after Oklahoma’s third presidential race in a row with only two options, an editorial was published supporting ballot access reform.

Colorado’s ballot access law may be too lax, but Oklahoma’s law is at the other end of the spectrum, making it exceedingly difficult for third parties to put a candidate before voters. This year, just as in 2008 and 2004, Oklahomans had only two options for president, the Democrat or the Republican. Twelve years ago, Pat Buchanan managed to get on the ballot here as an independent.

During an appearance in Oklahoma City two years ago, consumer advocate Ralph Nader said our state’s ballot access rules are among the nation’s toughest. “A competitive democracy with multiple candidates, multiple ideas, multiple backgrounds and multiple agendas is going to bring more people out to vote and we’re going to have a better political process,” he said.

Donna Bebo, who ran as a Democrat for the 4th Congressional District seat, put it this way: “Candidates should not win simply because of who they keep off the ballot. They should win on their own merit.” She has a point.

In conservative Oklahoma, Republicans enjoy firm and growing control of the Legislature. They have nothing to fear from providing a voice to others, by lowering some of the significant hurdles now in place for third-party candidates trying to get on our ballot.

Now that Oklahoma’s two largest news organizations have put their editorial muscle behind our efforts, will the State Legislature follow through and actually pass HB2134? Right now, the ball is in the Senate’s court and unfortunately, they have made moves to stall the bill as much as possible. Not only did they wait until the last day it could be heard in committee to pass it to the floor, but they also had the title and enacting clause stricken, a move that ensures it is forced to a conference committee if both are not restored prior to a floor vote. If the bill does get sent to a conference committee it is highly likely that it will die there just as previous ballot access reform bills have done.

We are working hard to ensure that the title and enacting clause are restored prior to a Senate vote, but have not received responses to any of our efforts to reach out to Senator Marlatt.

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Will You Run For Office This Year?

Every 2 years, all 101 Oklahoma State House seats and 24 of 48 Oklahoma State Senate seats are up for election. Yet in 2012, only 36% of those seats, 32 House seats and 12 Senate seats, made it to the November ballot. Why? Because good citizens like you didn’t challenge those in office. In 2012, only 3 Independents ran for the State Legislature. It was the same in 2010. What is the saying? “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men(and women) to do nothing.”

Will you run for office this year? It doesn’t take much to just get your name on the ballot. Only $200 and some time at the capital to file the necessary paper work. How much or little you do after that is up to you. Even if you do the bare minimum of work during the election cycle, you still have the chance to get 5-20% of the vote. In 3-way races (Democrat, Republican and an Independent), Independents tend to get around 5% of the vote. In 2-way races (either a Democrat or Republican against an Independent), the Independent typically gets 15-20% of the vote. If we have more Independents on the ballot, that percentage could increase with the added exposure in the press.

Next week, April 9 – 11, is the candidate filing period. Will you be at the capital?

The State Election Board has provided a handy guide to filing for office.


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Senate Rules Committee Passes HB2134 But With Title Stricken

It took a while, but the Senate Rules Committee has finally voted on HB2134. The bill passed on a vote of 16-1 with Senator Rob Johnson as the sole no vote.

In a brief series of questions, Senator Connie Johnson asked what the intent of the legislation was, to which Senator Marlatt responded that it was to make it easier to form a new political party. In a follow up question, Sen. Connie Johnson asked Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax which parties have tried to form.

In response to this question Ziriax stated that no parties had filed intent to form this year. This is not surprising as the petition requirement would be based on the 2012 Presidential election which forces a higher number of needed signatures.  He followed that by stating that in 2012 two parties filed intent to form. The first was the Americans Elect party which gathered enough valid signatures but did not field any candidates. The other was the Libertarian Party which did not gain enough signatures to form. Ziriax expressed that had HB2134 been law at that time, he believed they could have qualified with the signatures they did submit.

It is unclear why Senator Rob Johnson voted against the bill. Our best guess is that since he is the author of SB668, which kept the 5% requirement but removed the presidential elections from the calculation, he felt that his bill should be the one to become law. This is mere speculation as we have not received a response from him as of yet.

Unfortunately for us, the bill had both its title and enacting clause stricken before the vote. This move ensures that if the title and enacting clause is not restored before a Senate vote, the bill will be forced to go to a conference committee. This is unfortunate as the conference committee is where several previous bills had died. It is our hope that this will not be the case. We ask that you contact your Senator and asked them to not just vote for HB2134 but also ask them to support restoring its title and enacting clause.

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What To Expect In The Second Half Of The 2014 Legislative Session

As we move into the second half of the 2014 Legislative Session, we are still watching the Legislature carefully. Of all the bills we were watching over the last two years, only three remain active. So let’s take a moment to see what the state of those three bills are.

The only bill to have any kind of hearing so far this year is HB2134. This bill, when it was introduced, would have returned the signature requirement to its pre-1974 requirement of 5,000. It passed the House Rules Committee in 2013 and sat there until the last day the House could hear its own bills in 2014. At that time, it was amended to 2.5% of the last general election. The bill then passed the House on a vote of 74 to 11. It is now awaiting a Senate Rules Committee hearing. The Senate has until April 10 to hear House bills in committee and until April 24 to hear it on the floor.

The other ballot access reform bill that is still alive is SB668. This bill passed the Senate on a unanimous vote in 2013. This bill is the weaker of the two reform bills. It merely removes the Presidential elections from the signature formula. It is in the House awaiting a Rules Committee hearing. It has the same deadlines as HB2134 but on the House side.

Of these two bills, we greatly prefer that HB2134 pass. But at this point, it is difficult to say if either will get a hearing. Our greatest fear is that both chambers will not move on either bill because they have both passed one of their own already. We have reached out to both the Senate Author of HB2134 and the House author of SB668 to find out what their next moves are. Neither has responded to our requests.

The final bill on our watch list is SB76. This bill is one that we hope the House does not consider at all. It would double the filing fees to run for office. This bill will have the effect of reducing the number of people who would run for office. In Oklahoma, where far less than 50% of legislative seats make it to the November ballot, this would harm Oklahoma more than help. This bill has passed solely on partisan lines. No Democrats have voted in favor of it. It is in the House waiting a hearing by the Appropriations and Budget committee. We have reached out to the House author to find out if he has plans to push it through, but he has not responded.

So as we enter the last two months of the legislative session, we will be keeping you up to date on any movement made on these three bills.

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HB2134 Passes The House With Amendments

HB2134 was the preferred ballot access bill this year. It would have returned Oklahoma to its pre-1974 requirement of 5,000 signatures to form a new party. After what seemed like an eternity, HB2134 finally came to a vote late on the last day it could be heard.

Representative Jon Echols pushed the bill on the floor and introduced an amendment to it. It is unclear exactly why he amended the bill as he has not responded to that inquiry just yet. This amendment changed the signature requirement to 2.5% of the last general election. While not the 5,000 signatures we wanted. it is greatly improved from the current situation.

When it came to a vote, the bill passed on a vote of 74 to 11. All eleven Representatives voting against it are Republicans. They are as follows: Representatives Biggs, Jackson, Nollan, Schwartz,  Cockroft, Johnson,  O’Donnell, Trebilcock, Derby, McCall and Sanders. If any of these Representatives are your District  Rep, you may want to have words with them. We have sent emails to them to ask them why they voted against it and are waiting for their replies.

At this point, the bill goes to the Senate for its vote. Last year, the Senate passed SB668. That bill simply removed the Presidential elections from the calculation. So it is imperative that we push the Senate to hear this bill. Senator Marlatt is the principal Senate Author of HB2134 and will be the one who will be pushing it to be heard.

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Oklahoma Libertarian Convention Highlights Personal Freedom And Citizen Action

Zachary Knight Speaking At The Oklahoma Libertarian ConventionThis past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the 2014 Oklahoma libertarian Convention. This meeting had a number of speakers as well as the election of new officers.

During my speech, I spoke about Oklahoma’s terrible ballot access laws and the effort we have been making to reform those laws to return them to their pre-1974 status. In this, I highlighted the gradual improvement in the attitude of the Legislature towards reform. I then called for more Independents to run for office. The reason for this call to action is that the Legislature will not move unless pushed in that direction and the best way to do so is to run for Legislative seats. Those in office need to work for their seat and we need to show them that the only way to do that is to pass reform. I will post a more in depth treatment of my speech soon.

Another set of speakers was Norma Sapp and Porter Davis who spoke about their work to get legalization of marijuana passed. In response to their work, the Oklahoma Libertarian Party voted to officially support legalization of marijuana in Oklahoma. There was one other aspect of their speeches that has a greater bearing for OBAR in that they discussed the power of the citizen initiative. They are working within several cities to put ballot measures in front of voters to decriminalize marijuana within the city borders. These citywide initiatives are often far easier to enact than their statewide counterparts. Imagine what we could do within individual cities to change the way the city leadership is elected to make them more fair.

Charles Key Spoke about the rise of the police state but a significant portion of his speech was dedicated to transparency in government. In this he spoke at length about the Calendar Committee that Speaker Shannon created last year. He spoke about how the process before was controlled by a single individual, the Speaker of the House, and how the Calendar Committee was meant to provide more openness. He then spoke about how the openness promised really never surfaced and that the committee still had the weakness of a single person being able to control which bills were heard. He then followed that by stating that the removal of the Calendar Committee this year was a step backwards even though its creation was not a much of a step forward.

The final speaker was Geoffrey Neale the Chair of the National Libertarian Party. In his speech he spoke about how sometimes we need to think smaller when it comes to building a reputation in elections. He said we need to be running for School Boards, Water Boards, Town and City Council seats. These lower level seats are often non-partisan and are far easier for Independents to win. By seeking and winning these seats, it becomes far easier for us to build a reputation that can carry us for state level seats. He also recommended two books that anyone who wants to run for office should read, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and The Art of War.

The final round of business was the election officers and other business. In this, Steve Long was elected as Chair of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party. He has worked as the Treasurer for the party for the last two years. The party also voted in support of legalization of marijuana and to purchase a sponsorship at Southland Liberty Fest in April.

You can visit their website to learn more about the Oklahoma Libertarian Party. Or you can follow them on Twitter @OklahomaLP

Full Disclosure: I am a member of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party. I was elected as Secretary of the party at this convention.


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Randy Brogdon Drops Out Of Governor Race To Seek Senate Seat

Randy BrogdonRandy Brogdon was the only Republican challenger to Mary Fallin’s nomination for Governor in 2014. That has now changed. Brogdon sent an email to backers of his campaign yesterday announcing his intent to drop outo the the governor’s race to seek the Senate seat being vacated by current Senator Tom Coburn.

In this letter, he writes about the dilemma he faced in making the decision to switch gears at this point in the race. He had been hesitant to go to Washington, but after considering it and talking to many people, he felt that he could do more for the cause of liberty if he were in Washington.

With Randy’s departure from the governor’s race, we are left with only three candidates. Incumbent Republican Mary Fallin, Democratic Joe Dorman, and Independent Richard Prawdzienski. Of the three left, only Richard has been actively engaged in changing Oklahoma’s harsh ballot access laws.

Full text of the letter below. Continue reading

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Richard Prawdzienski Announces Independent Bid For Governor’s Seat

Richard PrawdzienskiOklahoma has its first Independent candidate for Governor for the 2014 election. Yesterday, Richard Prawdzienski announced his intent to run for governor.

Richard is a former chair of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party and has been active member of the effort to reform Oklahoma’s ballot access laws.

He has been a candidate for office before, in 2010 as an Independent candidate for Lt. Governor and in 2012 as an Independent for the State Senate seat for Edmond.

Along with his campaign for Governor, Richard is looking for others to run along side him this year.

Richard Prawdzienski, a former OKLP Chair, recently announced he will file for Governor and is building a Liberty Caucus of Republicans, Democrats and Independents to file for their Senate or House District.

Oklahoma has not had an Independent candidate for Governor since 2002. In that race, Gary Richardson ran as an Independent and earned 14.1% of the vote. We welcome a full slate of candidates in the governor election this year.

We are confident that Richard will make ballot access reform a priority in his campaign as well as his term in office if he wins the election.

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