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.

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.