On Wednesday February 17, the Senate Rules Committee heard three election reform bills and passed them all unanimously. The two really important bills were SB896, the bill that lowers the party retention test from the current 10% of the vote to 2.5%, and SB1108, which removes the Straight Ticket device from the November ballots.
Both were heard and passed the committee. They now move to the full Senate, where they will hopefully be heard soon.
Also heard was SB1016 which removes party labels from voter registration forms. This bill also passed and moves on.
We will have more about all these bills going forward.
We are in luck this year. There is only one truly bad bill this year. While a couple of bills might be questionable, none have truly been as bad as Representative Perryman’s latest bill. HB2592 would require all people registering to vote, or updating their registration to register their fingerprints and facial recognition scan with the state.
The bill argues that this is a good thing because it will allow voters to use their fingerprints instead of a photo ID when voting. This unfortunately would cause a lot of problems with voters. It could discourage a lot of people from registering who are uncomfortable with the government taking their fingerprints or facial scans. This is compounded by the fact that these fingerprints and facial scans will be open to law enforcement.
It is unclear what Perryman hopes to accomplish with this bill. This goes well beyond the idea of protecting elections from fraud that came with the Voter ID law that was passed in 2010.
What else is troubling, is that Perryman introduced some arguably great bills this session. Why would he introduce this one along with them?
Of all the bills introduced this session, this is the only one that we will be directly advocating against.
In several states, people are allowed to vote by mail, and some states require mail-only ballots. Representative Perryman has introduced HB2588 which would require all elections after 2020 to be conducted by mail.
Under this bill, county election boards will be required to send all registered voters a ballot between 20 and 14 days before the election. Voters will then have 4 days to complete and return the ballot either in person or through the mail in the required identification envelope, which voters are required to sign.
While voters can already request an absentee ballot and submit that by mail, they currently have to apply and provide a reason for the request. Under this bill, there will be no reason to have an absentee process as everyone will get a mail in ballot.
This bill will give voters an easier time voting at their leisure. It is safe to argue that voting by mail is much easier than in person voting, even with a 60 day early voting period, as Rep. Perryman’s other bill would require.
Oklahoma is currently not very friendly to potential voters who cannot make it to the polls on election day. While we do have a period of early voting, it is only for a few days on the week before the election. While this is good, it does not meet the needs of many potential voters.
In order to make elections more friendly for many more voters, Representative Perryman has introduced HB2589 which will not only increase the time a voter may vote early, but increase the number of places they can do so.
If this bill were to pass, voters will have 60 days prior to an election to submit an absentee ballot. They can also do this any day Monday through Saturday. On top of this, the bill will allow all county election boards to designate other locations for early voting along side the county office.
A full sixty days prior to the election will greatly expand the potential for a greater number of people to vote and result in elections that more closely reflect the will of voters in the state.
Over the last few years, Republicans in the State Legislature seemed to have been on a warpath to reduce the number of people registering to vote. The introduction of VoterID was a cornerstone of that ideal. So we never expected to see what we have here. This year, three bills have been introduced that would greatly increase the number of people eligible to register to vote.
The first bill, introduced by Senator Holt, will allow for early registration for potential voters 16 and 17 years of age. SB999 will allow anyone 16 or 17 years old, who will not turn 18 before the next election, to preregister to vote. Upon turning 18, the Election Board will automatically register these people as voters. This bill will likely result in many more young people registering to vote and increase the likelihood they will participate in future elections.
The next two bills, SB1042 by Senator Matthews and HB2277 by Representative Goodwin, would restore voting rights to all felons after they complete their sentences. While the two bills go about this change in different ways, they both will result in one of the largest legally disenfranchised groups of potential voters having that right restored to them.
All three of these bills are positive steps in making Oklahoma a much more voter friendly state and will result in not just more people being registered to vote, but also more people participating in elections.
Oklahoma is one of only five states that still lists the electors for president on the ballot along with the candidates for president and vice president. There is no reason to list this information as voters do not vote on the electors, but rather on the candidate those electors have sworn to represent. While the information is something that should be documented and made available for those voters that want the information, most voters just don’t care.
After last year’s decrease in signatures for new party petitions, Oklahoma will see an increase in political parties, and thus candidates for President, on the ballot. With more candidates on the ballot, it is conceivable that a large portion of the ballot will be dedicated to something that most voters do not care about and is not needed. This will make the ballot confusing for many voters.
To fix this, Senator Justice has introduced SB1108 which removes the names of Presidential electors from the ballot and requires that those names be made available on printed material near the voting booths for those who want the information.
This is a good bill in that it solves one of the problems that make the ballot long and confusing. It also has a high likelihood of advancing this year as Senator Justice is the Chair of the Senate Rules Committee. We hope that the Senate and the House will pass this bill this year so that the elections will be cleaner and easier for Oklahoma voters.
Last year, Senator Holt introduced a number of great bills and a couple of bad bills attempting to reform Oklahoma’s election system. This year, he has introduced yet another bill that could have some mixed results for the state and new political parties.
This year, Senator Holt introduced SB1016. This bill makes some changes to the voter registration process to make it easier for the State and County Election Boards to verify the identifying information on the voter registration form. This could make it easier to verify and complete the voter registration process.
However, the bill also contains language that changes how voters identify which party they wish to join. Currently, all recognized political parties are listed on the forms and a voter simply checks the box for the party they wish to identify with. There is also a box with a blank line which voters can check and then write in the name of the party they wish to join. Under the current system, if a new party gains recognition, the forms will have to be reprinted to include that new party. The old forms are still valid as voters can write in the name of the new party, but the state is required by law to print new forms.
Under the language in SB1016, the check boxes will be removed and in their place will be a blank line on which voters write in their party preference. While this change would make it so that the state does not have to reprint the forms every time a new party is formed, it will also make it more difficult for new parties to gain new members. If voters have to write in the party they wish to join, new parties will have to manage massive registration campaigns that could distract from other duties.
This change could also have an unintended affect on the duopoly Republican and Democratic parties as well. If voters have to write in their party of choice, more registering voters may end up just leaving the line blank. This will result in those voters being registered as independents. This could mean an even greater increase in the number of voters registered as independents in the state.
While saving the state money on printing costs is a noble goal, we wonder if doing so at the expense of new parties is worth it.
Every year, the Oklahoma Election board releases statistics on Oklahoma voters and which party to which they belong. Last year, we noted that Independent registrations had the largest rate of increase over the Democratic and Republican parties. This year, that trend has continued.
In fact, if you look at the change from 2015 to 2016, Independent registrations were the only group to have an increase while overall registrations fell. Looking at a two year change, Republicans also had an increase in registrations, yet it was a smaller increase than Independent registrations.
This year, the Democrats are at an all time low of 832,059, Republicans are at 880,130, and Independents have reached 266,605. Interestingly enough, Americans Elect, which is no longer a political party but a political organization, grew from 9 members in 2015 to 13 in 2016.
These trends show a change in political ideals in the Oklahoman voter. For years, voters have been identifying less and less with the Democratic and Republican parties and showing support for the inclusion of a third party in US politics. These voter registration statistics indicate that Oklahoma voters feel much the same way.
While a bill was passed this last year lowering the number of signatures needed to form a new party from 5% of the last vote to 3% of the last vote for Governor, that does little for new political parties and the voters that support them if the 10% vote test to retain party recognition stays in place. To tackle this issue, Senator Loveless has introduced SB896 which would lower the vote test from 10% to 2.5%.
That is a significant drop and is far more reasonable, even though it is not the 1% we support as part of our Ballot Access Brief. Still, this is a fairly difficult task for a new party. In 2012, the Libertarian party failed to meet Arkansas’ vote test of 3% after Gary Johnson polled 1.5% of the vote. In 2014, the Libertarian Party of Arkansas also failed to reach that test. In comparison, all other states surrounding Oklahoma have much easier vote tests and the Libertarian party was able to retain party recognition in each of them.
While any movement in a positive direction is good, and such a sizable reduction, is welcome, we would love to see more. Primarily, we recommend reducing the vote test to 1% of the vote. We also recommend that party recognition should be for 4 years rather than the current 2 years. By switching to a 4 year period of retention, new parties will have more time to form an election strategy to meet the requirement without the looming threat of having to petition again.
Still, we hope that the Senate and the House will pass this bill without amending it to be higher than the 2.5% of the the vote the bill currently has. If it must be amended, it should be amended to lower that vote test.
For now, we recommend that you contact your state Senator and Representative and demand that SB896 passes. This bill is sorely needed in Oklahoma if last year’s reduction of petitions is to have any meaning.
Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Democratic Party informed the State Election Board that it will allow Independent voters to vote in its 2016 and 2017 primaries. The Libertarian and Green parties also stated intent to allow Independents to vote in their potential primaries if they got on the ballot. This left the Republican Party as the lone hold out.
The Republican Party has now made it official. Their’s will be the only primaries in which Independents will not be allowed to vote. They provided an official statement to the State Election Board stating as much.
The state GOP made it official Tuesday in a letter to the state’s Election Board secretary.
Party chairman Pam Pollard said the party believed that only Republicans should pick Republican candidates.
As we enter the coming election year, we will see how these choices will impact the election in Oklahoma.