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.

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.

Letter To The Editor In Support Of Better Political Alternatives

Earlier this week, James Mitchell of Oklahoma City had a letter to the editor published at NewsOK. in that letter, James advocated for better alternatives to the current two parties in Oklahoma. In this letter, James calls for more qualified Independent candidates as well as open primaries. He also laments the current voter mentality that has led to where we are today.

Here is James’ letter in full:

I agree with E. Zachary Knight (Your Views, Feb. 3) that there needs to be an alternative for voters other than Democrat, Republican and the tea party for state and national offices. However, in today’s political environment anyone who dares to be an independent thinker who’s not walking in lockstep with party ideology and who has the audacity to put the welfare of the state or nation ahead of the honorless party machines immediately commits political suicide. Voters have helped to create this environment with our excessive thirst for the extreme.

Getting independent candidates who are actually qualified to hold the offices and getting them to run is another major challenge. The Republican presidential primaries of 2012, for example, were a clown show. Fortunately, the only one of that group who was actually qualified did get the nomination. If independents are going to seriously challenge the established political machine, the candidates must be truly qualified to hold the offices they’re seeking.

Allowing open primaries in Oklahoma would be a major feat. In Oklahoma, change to what we’ve always done is hard to accomplish. Even when the benefits of the changes are as bold as the sky, there are still those who would attempt to take us backward. The Oklahoma City mayor’s race this year will be a good example.

Ballot Access Reform Bill Author Elected To House Speaker

Representative Jeff HickmanYesterday, House Republicans met and elected a new House Speaker to replace outgoing Rep. TW Shannon who stepped down from the position to pursue a US Senate seat. This is great news for proponents of Ballot Access Reform for two reasons.

The first reason is that Rep Shannon was a key figure in blocking ballot access reform from a vote in 2013. We were never clear on his reasons but it doesn’t matter much at this point. He has stepped down as Speaker as he seeks the Republican nomination for the US Senate.

The second reason is that his new replacement is none other than HB2134’s author Representative Jeff Hickman. HB2134 is the bill that reduces the signatures required to form a new party from te current 5% requirement to a flat 5,000.

This is certainly a unique opportunity for ballot access reform in Oklahoma. I am unaware of any time in the past where the Speaker of the House was also a principal author of a ballot access reform bill. We certainly hope that Rep. Hickman will help insure that real reform advances through the House this year.

We ask all supporters of ballot access reform to send words of encouragement to the new Speaker and ask that HB2134 be heard on the floor.

Letter To The Editor Calling For More Independents To Run For Legislature

In the lead up to the 2014 Legislative Session, we sent in a letter to the editor of NewsOK calling for more Independent voters to run. We highlighted why that is important for the state and for Ballot Access Reform efforts. Today, NewsOK published our letter. Here it is:

Oklahoma needs more candidates to run for office. In recent elections, fewer state legislative seats have received challenges. This means more legislators are getting too comfortable in their seats. When legislators get too comfortable, they stop thinking about what’s best for Oklahoma. Many people are upset with the direction Oklahoma is going, but no one has as much a right to complain as do the independent voters in the state.

Oklahoma has made it extremely difficult for independent voters to make their voices heard, form their own political parties and run their own presidential candidates. We’ve not had an alternative party with an alternative presidential candidate in more than 12 years. The Legislature refuses to rectify this problem. If the current Legislature refuses to alleviate the grievances of independent voters, then those voters need to force their hand.

Independent voters need to become independent candidates for the Legislature. Only by becoming candidates for office and running against comfortably seated incumbents will we see a change in the laws blocking alternative parties and candidates. It doesn’t take much to run for office, but by doing so, we can get many issues in front of voters that the major party candidates refuse to address in public. We can become a force for change.

We really hope that Independent voters read this and our other messages and make the choice to run for office.

A copy of this letter was also published at the Tulsa World.

The Oklahoma Legislature Wants Your Input On Legislative Matters

Speakup Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Legislature Wants To Hear From You

A few years back, the Obama Administration create the White House Petition website in which citizens could introduce issues they would like to see the President address. Other people could then sign those petitions to add their support and ensure that the President responded to them. That site has become a valuable tool for allowing voters to express their desire for change in government, even if it has not had the desired effect of changing the President’s opinions on certain matters.

This month, the Oklahoma Legislature is following in that arena and has created its very own public forum for changing the direction of politics and public opinion in this very state. This site, Speakup Oklahoma, already has a lot of topics on it ranging from campaign finance reform, the pay of public employees, hemp and marijuana legalization, to school choice. So it is only proper for us to present our very own proposal for easing Oklahoma’s strict ballot access laws.

Currently, Oklahoma is one of the toughest states to form a new political party in the U.S. These laws have created a drought of ideas in our political landscape. We need to reduce the petition requirement for forming a new party from the current 5% of the last general election to the flat 5,000 signatures parties needed prior to the change in 1974.

We would like to see a massive outpouring of support for this proposal. Signing up for the site is incredibly easy. You can create an account using Facebook or fill out a simple form on the site. Once you do that, simply go to the Ballot Access Reform topic and vote for it simply by clicking the cote counter. If you feel inclined you can also leave a comment in support. I want to see this topic reach the top of the vote count pile. So, get on it.


Attorney General Scott Pruitt Supports Ban On Out Of State Petitioners

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott PruittTomorrow the Supreme Court of the Unites States will consider an appeal by the state of Virginia on its ban on out of state petitioners. [UPDATE: The Supreme Court refused to take up the case (PDF). This means that the lower court ruling overturning the ban remains in place in Virginia and all other jurisdictions that have had such bans overturned.] This ban was challenged by the Libertarian Party of Virginia and the law banning the petitioners was overthrown by the Fourth Circuit Court.

Oklahoma had a similar law in effect, but its law was overturned and a repeal was forced. This was unfortunate for many in power in Oklahoma and specifically for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Because of this, AG Scott Pruitt has filed an amicus brief in the Virginia case along with six other states asking the Supreme Court to uphold the ban on out of state petitioners.

If the Supreme Court upholds the ban, it would have the ramifications of making it far harder for alternative parties and citizens seeking to field a ballot question to fellow voters. If the law is overturned by the Supreme Court then Pruitt argues that the remedies left to the states to prevent fraud would be severely hampered. (PDF)

The States of Oklahoma, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wyoming as amici have an interest in the outcome of Charles Judd, et al. v. Libertarian Party of Virginia and Darryl Bonner because the States are vested with the responsibility for ensuring that ballot access, both in terms of initiative petitions and candidate petitions, are shielded from fraudulent behavior and that the integrity of these initiatives is preserved. To ensure these twin aims are met, many States have instituted residency requirements. Yet, despite recognizing that these interests are compelling, a number of courts have nevertheless declared residency requirements insufficiently narrowly tailored to these compelling interests, and have therefore ruled that residency requirements unconstitutionally infringe on circulators’ First Amendment rights. These courts have based their determinations on an exaggerated reading of this Court’s precedents, leaving States with a few, ineffectual means of combating the harms toward which residency requirements are aimed. The amici urge this Court to accept review in this case.

Part of Pruitt’s concern is that the electoral and petition process will be usurped by out of state interests. His concern is that single issue campaigns will come in and change laws and the constitution without having to deal with the fall out.

Nevertheless, “a major fear of citizens in states with ballot initiatives is that out-of-state special interest groups will come into their state and change the political climate by enacting laws and altering constitutions while avoiding any of the negative effects such changes could create.” Therefore, the integrity of the initiative is integral to continued direct democracy within the State. The same is true for candidate petitions.

However, we can look back at recent elections to see that Pruitt’s stated fears have no merit. In 2010, the only citizen petition to be granted a ballot question was SQ744 which would have changed the way the state funds education. This question was highly criticized as being funded and pushed by the national teachers unions. Despite the strong national support from a strong union, the question failed to pass a vote of the people. This situation shows that even if a national interest groups successfully gets a question on the ballot, it would still need to garner state support to pass. If the people of the state are not interested in the national interest, then it would certainly not be harmed by the allowance of out of state petitioners.

Pruitt also closes that statement by saying that candidate petitions are also at danger of such national meddling. Yet, Pruitt fails to understand Oklahoma’s current candidacy climate. Oklahoma has a system in which independent candidates can pay a fee rather than circulate a petition. In fact, the only line on the ballot that does not include a fee instead of a petition is that of President. Considering the national importance of the Presidency, it would make sense to leave the petitioning for President open for national parties and groups to fund the petition process.

Of course, if Pruitt really wants to weaken national interests in the state, perhaps the better plan of action is to strengthen the citizens in the state. The process for forming a new party is extremely burdensome without the support of national parties. If the process were easier for those in the state, they would be less reliant on out of state petitioners. The same goes for the initiative petition process. With requirements of 8% of the last statewide vote for proposed laws and 15% for constitutional amendments, the process could be made easier for the citizenry. The same could be done with the formation of new parties which require a petition of 5% of the last statewide election. If the citizens had greater access to the ballot, then the power of out of state interests would be weakened dramatically.

for more information: Judd vs Libertarian Party of Virginia

Rep. Mullin Is Right; 2014 Elections Is Where Our Power Lies

Represenative Markwayne MullinLast week, Representative Markwayne Mullin met in a townhall meeting and said the following in regards to Obamacare and what can be done about it:

The best thing we have coming up is an election in 2014

But this isn’t about Obamacare, at least not for us. This is about Ballot Access Reform. The reason why we haven’t been able to get reform passed in the last 40 years is because we have not pushed the issue in the elections.

We have had only three Independent candidates for legislature in each of the last two elections. That is not how you build support for our cause. If we really want to see reform passed, then we really need to push the issue at the ballot box. Continue reading

NewsOK Gets The Law Wrong On Party Status

Oklahoma Democratic PartyWow. It is amazing that News OK would get the basic law so wrong. NewsOK claims that ifthe Democratic Party fails to field a candidate for Governor, it could end with the party losing official recognition. There is no threat to Democratic Party status if it fails to place a candidate on the ballot. The law is written in such a manner which could prevent either the Republicans or Democrats from ever losing party status.

A state law that took effect in 1975 requires any recognized political party whose nominee for governor or for presidential and vice presidential electors fails to receive at least 10 percent of the votes cast in a November general election shall cease to be a recognized political party.

While §26-1-109 of the Oklahoma Statutes reads does read that way:

Any recognized political party whose nominee for Governor or nominees for electors for President and Vice President fail to receive at least ten percent (10%) of the total votes cast for said offices in any General Election shall cease to be a recognized political party.

That is potentially overridden by §26 1 107 which reads:

Recognized political parties shall include parties whose candidates’ names appeared on the General Election ballot in 1974, and those parties which shall be formed according to law.

That would mean that in Oklahoma the only parties which could potentially never lose ballot access would be the Democratic and Republican parties since they are the only ones on the ballot in 1974.

Now, this may receive a different interpretation in court, and I would love to see this challenged by an establishment party. But as it stands now, this is a strong legal “get out of jail free card” for the Democratic Party if it doesn’t field a candidate.

Oklahoma Had The Third Lowest Voter Turnout Of All States In 2012

The US Census Bureau has released demographic data for the 2012 Federal Election. The numbers don’t speak well of Oklahoma. Of all 50 states and DC, Oklahoma ranks 49th in voter turnout of eligible voters. Only Hawaii and West Virginia had lower turnout rates.

From the Tulsa World report, here are the most interesting Oklahoma statistics:

The 52.4 percent 2012 voting rate in Oklahoma beat only Hawaii and West Virginia and was 6.3 percent worse than in the 2008 presidential election.

In Oklahoma, voting rates among age groups declined in all categories with the exception of 65- to 74-year-olds compared to 2008.

Oklahoma voters in the 65 to 74 age group increased 68.1 percent to 80.7 percent.

About one in four, or 27 percent, of Oklahomans age 18 to 24 cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election.

About 41 percent of those aged 18 to 24 cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election.

Oklahoma ranks 42nd among states in the percentage of eligible voters who are registered, with 66.1 percent on the rolls.

The report also found a decline in the percentage of eligible Oklahomans who were registered to vote since 2008.

The percent of the citizenry that were registered to vote declined from 70.1 percent in 2008 to 66.1 percent in 2012.

These are some serious declines. While members of the Democratic Party and Democratic organizations blamed voter ID laws, gerrymandering and long ballots for the decline, we here at Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform have some different ideas. Continue reading