Not to be outdone by the Senate, members of the House have also filed two bills that will change elections. Both bills are rather positive bills that could allow for better elections and accountability for elected officials.
The first of the two, HB 1011, is a simple modification to the dates that voters can request in-person absentee ballots. It will add 3 extra days to the request period. Right now, you can only request ballots the Friday, Saturday and Monday prior to an election. If this bill passes, you will be able to request them as early as the Tuesday before an election. This is a good measure that will make it easier for those seeking to vote earlier to do so.
The second bill, HB 1008, gives a whole new set of powers to the voters in Oklahoma to hold their elected officials accountable. This new power is the Recall. Many of you may be familiar with the national attention that the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker received last year. Many in Wisconsin felt that Gov. Walker failed to uphold his duties and challenged him to a recall. While the recall failed to unseat him, the process was an incredible display of the power that voters have in which to hold elected officials accountable.
I was unaware that Oklahomans did not have a recall power until this bill was filed. So you can imagine that I am pleasantly surprised.
Under this ability, voters can file a petition with the State or County Election Board to recall any State or County elected official. When filing, you must present ready a petition to fill in which you describe why the elected official deserves to be recalled. After filing the recall, you have 90 days to gather signatures equal to 15% of the last election for that elected official’s seat. The bill is not completely clear, but I would assume that the signatures must be from people that live within that Legislative District, County or the State, for statewide races.
If a successful petition is filed, then those seeking to replace the elected official must file at the same time. Then an election is held. In this election, you must first vote for whether you want that elected official recalled. If yes, you then vote for who you want to replace that official. The elected official being recalled cannot be in the list of potential candidates,
Some other checks apply, though. You cannot file for or gather signatures for a recall until the elected official being challenged has been in office for 12 months. If the elected official wins the recall, they cannot be challenged again until the end of that term.
Unfortunately, this bill contains a number of missing measures that one would think should be taken into account. First off, the bill provides no alternate petition requirement for elected officials who won their seat without a challenge, eg that elected official was the only one who filed. Nor does it provide for cases in which the elected official won the seat in a partisan primary. Without those requirements spelled out, it is unclear if an elected official under those circumstances could be recalled. Both of these scenarios happen regularly each election.
Additionally, with the requirement that recalls cannot be filed until after the first 12 months and can’t be filed again till the end of the term, it would seem that this ability is mostly toothless for members of the State House. Those members only serve terms of 24 months. It would be far easier to wait the additional 12 months and challenge them in the election rather than wait 12 months, petition for 3 months, wait for the petition to be certified and the election held and counted. That process could take up to 18 months or after the close of the second Legislative Session for that House Member’s term. It would have been far better for the language of the bill to have read “1/4 the length of the elected officials term.” Under this language, you could file and petition and hold the election prior to the beginning of the second Legislative Session of that House Member’s term. Unfortunately, that is not so.
Hopefully, as this bill moves through the legislative process, those concerns will be addressed and this will become another powerful tool for voters to hold their elected officials accountable.