SB1108 Signed Into Law, Removes Presidential Electors From The Ballot

With the Libertarian Party now an officially recognized party in Oklahoma and more to come in the future, the ballots could become a crowded place if Oklahoma, one of only 5 states, continues to list all 7 Presidential Electors alongside the President and Vice President candidates they represent on the ballot. That has changed now that SB1108 passed both houses of the Legislature and was signed by Governor Fallin.

This November, when you go to the ballot, the only names that will appear at the top of the ticket will be the nominees for President and Vice President from the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties along with the any Independent or Unofficial Party candidates for President and Vice President, assuming they can actually meet Oklahoma’s still extremely harsh petitioning requirements for those ticket lines.

If voters wish to know who the Presidential Electors are, that information will be made available at the voting booth, but we at OBAR seriously doubt that information will be in high demand. So now, the only items that will seriously increase the length of the ballot will be the state questions which look to be increasing in number on a daily basis thanks to the State Legislature and not initiative petitions.

Representative Perryman wants Voters To Register Fingerprints And Facial Recognition

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.

New Bill Would Have All Elections Conducted By Mail In 2020

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.

New Bill Would Extend Early Voting To 60 Days Before Election

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.

New Bills Will Increase Number Of People Eligible To Register To Vote

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.

Senator Justice Introduces Bill To Remove Electors From The Ballot

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.

Ethics Commission Says New Rules Do Not Violate Colorado Ruling

Back in January, we wrote about a ruling out of the 10th Circuit that determined that Colorado’s campaign finance laws were unconstitutional because they allowed candidates for major parties to raise more funds than their minor party and Independent competition. At the same time, Oklahoma was considering campaign finance reforms that we felt could be in violation of that ruling.

During this past legislative session, the Legislature passed a campaign finance reform bill that allows for the State Ethics Commission the ability to write its own rules with only a simple approval from the Legislature. Now that the bill has passed and the session is over, the new rules go into effect for the 2016 elections.

We had asked the Ethics Commission about whether they took that ruling into account when drafting the rules, but were told the ruling came after they drafted them. So they told us that they would review the ruling and announce their opinion at a later meeting. It was in the July meeting that they determined the new rules do not violate the 10th Circuit ruling. (PDF)

General Counsel Frazier discussed Riddle v Hickenlooper, a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling regarding disparate contribution limits in Colorado. Frazier explained that Commission staff had analyzed this ruling, and that it would not impact the Commission’s recently promulgated campaign finance rules.

We have requested a copy of the Commission’s findings but have not heard back from the Ethics Commission. Frazier is no longer employed by the Commission and we have not been able to get in touch with her replacement.

It is our opinion that these rules, while not violating the letter of the ruling, do violate the spirit of the ruling. By allowing some candidates to raise more money than others, the playing field is stacked in favor of major party candidates over their competition.

The fact remains that if these rules remain unchanged before the 2016 elections, we will likely see a challenge to the rules and they will more than likely be ruled unconstitutional just as Colorado’s rules were.

National Popular Vote Bill Passes OK Senate On Bi-Partisan Lines; Concerns Over Lobbyist Activity Raised

Last week, the Oklahoma Senate passed SB906, the National Popular Vote Bill, on a bi-partisan vote of 28-18. All 12 of Oklahoma’s Democratic Senators voted for the bill and 18 Republican Senators voted against it.

This bill would change the way Oklahoma assigns its seven electoral votes from the current popular Oklahoma vote getting all votes, to a system in which the winner of the national popular vote gets all of Oklahoma’s electoral votes. This proposal has its supporters and its detractors with many concerns raised. We highlighted a few of those concerns last year when this bill was introduced. In that article we wrote:

The truth is that yes, Oklahoma would be further marginalized by Presidential candidates in the event of a national popular vote. However, that wouldn’t be changing much from the current situation. As NewsOK states, Oklahoma has been pretty much a Presidential flyover state since the 60s.

We further wrote of a better alternative, that of proportional allocating of electoral votes based on the percentage of voted earned by each candidate.

However, there is a different concern raised by some members of the House, that of the amount of lobbying taking place to get this bill passed. Representative Jason Murphey recently wrote about the tremendous lobbying effort from out of state interests who want this bill passed. He wrote about how those lobbyists are taking Oklahoma Legislators on all expense paid trips to resorts in order to get them to vote for the bill.

To this end, the national popular vote group invaded Oklahoma with a high powered team of very sophisticated lobbyists. They wisely kept the issue under the radar and away from the eyes of the public while aggressively trying to convince legislators by using a series of convoluted logic for why this proposal would benefit conservatives.

They financed a series of out-of-state junkets to various vacation sites where they explained this logic against an exotic backdrop of recreational events.

Having succeeded in the Senate, they are preparing to go on the offensive in the House. On March 20, they will finance an all-expenses-paid junket to St. Croix. In this exotic venue, far away from the eyes of the public, they will attempt to convince Oklahoma House members to vote for the bill. Just a few days after they return to the mainland, House members will vote on the proposal.

These all expense paid trips were further confirmed with a letter published by Batesline. In this article it was confirmed that Fair Vote, a 501(c)(3) organization is behind these trips.

This lobbying effort calls into serious question the ability of the Oklahoma Legislature to make decisions based on the will of the people. If those Senators who voted for this proposal did so because of the free vacation they were given rather than because the people of Oklahoma want to see it passed, then they are not doing their jobs.

If the way Oklahoma allocates its electoral votes is to change, it should be done by the will of the people not by the will of out of state lobbyists buying legislators all expense paid vacations. We will continue to watch these developments and the further progress of this bill.


More People Can Vote In Certain Primaries If New Legislation Is Passed

Oklahoma currently operates under a closed primary system. In this system, only members of a qualified party can vote in that party’s primary, unless that party allows for Independent voters to vote in it. Under this system, many elections are barred from a majority of voters because only a single party has candidates running for office. In the 2012 election, there were sixteen House and four Senate seats whose only opposition was in the primary election.

This will change for the better if legislation introduced this year passes and is signed into law.

Representative Jeannie McDaniel, Democrat District 78, has introduced HB2551 and Senator Larry Boggs, Republican District 7, has introduced SB1578. Both bills open up primary elections to members of other parties and to Independent voters if the only candidates for a seat are on a single party’s primary ballot.

If a recognized political party has two or more nominees for an office, no other recognized political party has a nominee for the office, and no person registered as an Independent pursuant to Section 4-112 of this title is a candidate for the office, all registered voters eligible to vote for that office, regardless of whether the voters are registered as members of the recognized political party having candidates for the office, are registered as members of another recognized political party, or are registered as Independents, shall be allowed to vote in the Primary Election and, if a Runoff Primary Election is necessary, in the Runoff Primary Election.

This is a great step in the direction of ensuring that Oklahoma’s elections are fair and open to all voters. We will be watching the progress of these bills very carefully this election.

Proposed Ethics Commission Change To Political Contributions Would Harm Independents And Create Lopsided Elections

Earlier this week, Lee Slater, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, introduced a proposal to reform Oklahoma’s political contribution laws, particularly those regulating how much individuals and families can donate to campaigns. His reasoning is that the current laws are punitive toward families.

I believe that family limit to be unconstitutional. I believe that it discriminates against a married person as opposed to a single person.

The current campaign contribution limits, found in Rule 257:10-1-1 of the Oklahoma Statutes, reads as follows:

No person or family may contribute more than five thousand dollars ($5,000) to a candidate for state office or to a candidate committee authorized by such a candidate to accept contributions or make expenditures on his behalf during a campaign as defined in Chapter 1, Section 2 and as provided in Paragraphs (4) and (5) of this subsection. No candidate or candidate committee shall knowingly accept a contribution in excess of five thousand dollars ($5,000) from a person or family during a campaign.

Under the current law, A married couple would only be able to donate a combined $5,000 to a particular candidate, yet their unmarried friends could donate a combine $10,000 to a different campaign. We agree that this language is especially punitive toward those who are married. However,  Mr. Slater’s proposal goes much further than simply striking the phrase “or family” from the statute.

Under Mr. Slater’s proposal, the $5,000 contribution limit would also change. Current law limits the individual or family contributions to $5,000 for the entirety of the campaign. Which means from the moment the candidate registers intent with the Ethics Commission to the election, you cannot give that candidate more than $5,000. Slater’s proposal changes that limit to a $2,600 limit per election. This means that you can donate up to $2,600 to a candidate for the primary election, another $2,600 for the run-off primary, and another $2,600 for the general election but only if that candidate would appear on the ballot in those elections. Those who do not appear on a primary ballot because they ran unopposed in their party would be limited to only $2,600 per contributor for the entire campaign.

For an illustration of why this isn’t a good idea, I compiled a list of elections from the 2012 election season that would have had lopsided contributions if this proposal had been in place in 2012.

  • In the State Senate District 15 race, Rob Standridge (R) appeared on the ballot for all three qualifying elections while his November competition, Claudia Griffith (D), appeared only on the November Ballot. This placed Standridge at an advantage of $5,200 per contributor over Griffith.
  • In the State Senate District 43 race, Corey Brooks (R) appeared on the ballot for all three qualifying elections while his November competition, Mike Fullerton (D), appeared only on the November Ballot. This placed Brooks at an advantage of $5,200 per contributor over Fullerton.
  • In the State House District 14race, Jerry Rains (D) appeared on the ballot for all three qualifying elections while his November competition, Arthur Hulbert (R), appeared only on the November Ballot. This placed Standridge at an advantage of $5,200 per contributor over Griffith.
  • In the State House District 88 race, Kay Floyd (D) appeared on the ballot for all three qualifying elections while her November competition, Aaron Kaspereit (R), appeared only on the primary and November ballots. This placed Floyd at an advantage of $2,600 per contributor over Kaspereit.
  • State Senate Districts 7, 11, 39, and 41 all had one candidate who appeared in a primary against a candidate who ran unopposed in his or her party. Those candidates who were in a primary had a $2,600 advantage over their opponents.
  • State House Districts 3, 22,  23, 26, 27, 32, 36, 37, 45, 51, 60, 71, 86, and 101 all had one candidate who appeared in a primary against a candidate who ran unopposed in his or her party. Those candidates who were in a primary had a $2,600 advantage over their opponents.

As can be seen from these races, this proposal would create some very lopsided races throughout the state. It is hard to see how that would benefit the people of Oklahoma.

What is especially appalling in this proposal is the punitive nature of it toward Independent candidates. While both Democratic and Republican candidates have access to primary ballots, and thus the extra funds available by appearing on those, Independent candidates are by law restricted only to the November election. Which means there is no possible way an Independent candidate could receive more than $2,600 per contributor while her opposition has a potential $7,800 per contributor.

As the law currently stands, a simple compromise of striking the phrase “or family” would be greatly improved and fix what Slater feels is unconstitutional. There is no need to introduce changes to the contribution limits that would unfairly restrict the ability of Independent candidates to raise money and which would also created lopsided races throughout Oklahoma. We hope that Oklahoma’s lawmakers would also see this major flaw and avoid that particular change.