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.