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.