The Electoral College And All Its Problems Can Be Fixed

Electoral College 2012Over the weekend, NewsOK ran an editorial highlighting some of the problems of a proposal to change the way the nation handles the electoral college. Right now, many states have a system in which all its electoral college votes are handed to the winner of the statewide popular presidential vote. A proposal has been circulating, and had two bills introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature this past session, to change that to a system where each state assigns its electors to the winner of the national popular vote. In the editorial, NewsOK states that proposal would further marginalize states like Oklahoma.

The influence of voters in rural states like Oklahoma would be minimized; the clout of voters in some major population centers — and the political machines often associated with those cities — would be enhanced. Based on history, this hardly seems a recipe for good government.

The National Popular Vote plan might remove Oklahoma from the category of states paid little attention to in presidential elections because the outcome is a foregone conclusion. No Democratic nominee since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 has been awarded the state’s Electoral College votes. In theory, the plan would increase interest in Oklahoma as candidates seek to boost their nationwide totals any way they can.

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. Continue reading

NewsOK Editorial Uses North Carolina Study To Weakly Defend Voter ID Laws

Voter ID laws are a contentious issue throughout the US. Supporters of the laws insist that there is a valid interest in protecting elections from fraud, while opponents of the laws claim that it disenfranchises some at-risk voters. What supporters of the laws neglect to show is exactly what harm is being prevented with these laws. Since they cannot point to an actual problem the law addresses, they have instead taken upon themselves to marginalize the complaints raised by opponents. This marginalization comes in two facets, direct attacks on the people complaining and dismissing their concerns. In an editorial in NewsOK, they manage to do both.

In this editorial, NewsOK attempts to use a study from North Carolina as evidence that Voter ID laws would not negatively impact voters. However, they instead resort to attacks on opponents and dismissing evidence of potential harm.

Passage of voter identification laws in Oklahoma and elsewhere prompted an outcry from liberal partisans. Critics claimed the laws would somehow “rob” legitimate voters, mostly Democrats, of the right to cast a ballot. Those assertions were always dubious. In the modern world, who doesn’t have a photo ID?

As you can see, this editorial has completely disregarded the complaints before even getting to the actual message of the editorial. This opening statement paints the rest of the editorial in a very negative light. Continue reading

Straight Party Voting Is Bad For Everyone

Sample Straight Party Voting BlockWhile the primary focus of Oklahomans For Ballot Access Reform has been on Oklahoma’s draconian restrictions of the formation of new parties, that is far from the only thing wrong with Oklahoma election law. There are a number of things including our primary run-off system as well as the focus of this article, Straight Party Voting. Straight Party Voting is a system in which a voter selects a party of preference rather than voting on specific candidates. This party choice is reflected on all partisan elections on the ballot. This means that if a voter chooses the Democratic Party option on the ballot, that choice is reflected on all partisan races as if she had voted for the Democratic candidates in those races.

There are two major flaws with this voting device. The first being that Independent candidates are not represented in this system. The second being that not all races have a candidate from all qualified parties. Continue reading

John Kerry Needs To Direct His Anger At The United States

At Least Oklahoma Is In Good CompanyIran is currently in the process of preparing for its Presidential Elections later this year. Part of that process is the declaration of candidacy of many people who want a shot at leading the country. Unfortunately for many of those potential candidates, Iran’s current regime is culling the rolls of any candidates that do not support the current regime. This includes at least one former President. So far hundreds of potential candidates have been disqualified. In response to this culling of the rolls, US Secretary of State John Kerry has lambasted Iran, saying the following:

“The Council narrowed a list of almost seven hundred potential candidates down to the sort of…officials of their choice, based solely on who represents the regime’s interests,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters during a visit to Israel.

“That is hardly an election by standards which most people in most countries judge free, fair, open, accessible, accountable elections.”

What is that saying about glass houses and throwing stones? I think Kerry needs to redirect some of that anger and frustration back at home. Everything that Kerry is accusing Iran’s regime of doing, the United States is just as guilty. Kerry complains of an unelected body deciding who is allowed to run in the Presidential elections based on their support of the current regime. The US also has one such body, the Commission on Presidential Debates. This body was founded by and is currently run by Republicans and Democrats and operates with the goal to only allow Republican and Democratic candidates on televised debates. Its rules for invitations to the debates are set up in such a way that no alternative candidates are allowed to participate. Continue reading

Senate Votes To Greatly Increase Candidate Filing Fees

On March 5, 2013, the Oklahoma Senate voted to pass SB76. This bill would greatly increase the filing fees in order to run for office in Oklahoma. This bill is not needed in Oklahoma as we already suffer from too few people running for office. This bill, if passed in the House and signed by the Governor, would simply make that problem worse.

The good news is that there is a lot of bipartisan opposition to the bill. The vote for the bill was 27-18. No Democratic Senators voted for the bill and the opposition was a good mix of Democratic and Republican Senators. This shows that many people in the State Legislature understand that this bill is problematic.

The bill now moves to the House. As we have said, it is vital that this bill be voted down in the House. We do not need this fee increase in Oklahoma. People should be free to run for office and increasing the fees associated with it would reduce that freedom. Please contact your Representative and ask them to vote against this arbitrary fee increase.

Example Letter Sent Regarding SB76 Increased Fees To File For Office

With SB 76 being sent to the Senate Rules Committee for review, I feel that it is important to contact those members to express how damaging this bill will be to Oklahoma Elections. As such, I am providing you with the letter that I sent to Senator Fields, the author of SB 76. I also sent a similarly worded letter to the other members of the Senate Rules Committee.

So if you are having trouble writing a letter or need some talking points when making phone calls, feel free to use this letter as a launching point.

Dear Senator Fields,

My name is Zachary Knight. I am the Chief Editor of, the online home of Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform. I am writing to you today regarding the introduction of SB76 to the 2013 Legislative Session. I write to you because I am at a loss for the justification behind an increase in the filing fees to run for office.

Before I get into my investigation into the the number of candidates filing, I would like to express some general thoughts on the economics of such fees. This filing fee, for all intents and purposes, is very much a tax on participating in the political process. As such, when one increases a tax, it has the direct and obvious result of reducing demand for that which is taxed. With that in mind, it would seem that increasing the filing fee needed to run for office would result in fewer people running for office.

Following on to that, I can see no justification for reducing the number of people running for office. If anything, Oklahoma certainly needs the opposite. By looking at the number of people running in previous elections, we can see a steady downward trend in the number of elections.

From 2004 to 2012, the number of November elections for State House seats has dropped from 66 seats to 34, respectfully. On the State Senate side over the same time period, we have seen a drop from 19 to 12, with two elections in that time frame coming in at 11 and 10 seats. In all of those elections, the highest number of candidates on any one ballot was three.

If we increase the filing fees, the result will be to exacerbate those trends.

Looking statewide, I can find no seats that have had more than 3 candidates in recent years. For federal elections, the most I have seen is 4 candidates. Yet, in none of those elections were voters unable to choose a clear winner.

Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform supports efforts to make participation in elections more inclusive. With that mission in mind, we cannot support SB76 and will actively campaign to defeat this bill. We ask you to voluntarily withdraw your bill and work with your legislative colleagues to improve Oklahoma elections to make them more inclusive.

Thank you for your time.

E. Zachary Knight
Chief Editor

Presidential Electors Facing Potential Changes

Among all the changes to Oklahoma elections proposed this year, there are four bills introduced that would change the way we deal with Presidential Electors in the state. As many of you know, the US does not directly elect its President. What we do is elect certain electors who then vote for who they want as President. Most states have passed laws that control who and how those Electors are chosen and who they can vote for.

In Oklahoma, recognized political parties choose their candidates in state primaries and then submit those candidates names as well as the Electors who will appear on the ballot. After the election, the electors for the winner of the statewide popular vote for President meet to cast their votes. In Oklahoma, the Electors must pledge to vote for a certain candidate and they are fined of up to $1000 if they do not.

This process could change if any of the following bills were to pass.

SB 309, introduced by Senator Holt Republican District 30,  will change how we deal with “Faithless Electors” or those electors who fail to vote for the candidate they pledged to support. On top of the $1000 fine, those electors are removed and a replacement elector is chosen by those remaining. This would end the possibility that the electors would go against the will of the people of Oklahoma.

Next is HB 1533, introduced by Representative Banz Republican District 101, which would change how these electors are distributed. Under current statute, The winner of the popular statewide election would get all of Oklahoma’s seven electors. Under HB 1533, each US Congressional District would elect one elector and the winner of the Statewide popular vote would earn the two at-large electors. This could allow a more fair representation of electors based on regional preference.

The final two bills address the same purpose with the same language. Both these bills introduce a proposal to have Oklahoma join a National Popular Vote agreement. Under SB 523, introduced by Senator Sparks Democrat District 16, and SB 906, introduced by Senator Rob Johnson Republican District 22, all of Oklahoma’s presidential electors would go to the winner of the National Popular Vote rather than the Statewide Popular Vote.

These two bills are in response to national calls for an end to the Electoral College. While ending the Electoral College outright would require an amendment to the US Constitution, the Constitution grants the states the right to choose how and when those electors are chosen. Most states choose their electors based on the votes of its citizens, and others have chosen to elect their electors based on the National Popular vote.

While there are many people who are calling for an end to the Electoral College, there are also many people who feel that ending it undermines state sovereignty. For example, in the last two presidential elections, President Obama did not win a single county in the state, and he polled significantly lower in the November election than his Republican rivals. However, Obama went on to win the National Popular Vote in both elections. This means that while the Republican challenger won the state, our Electors would have gone to Obama under a National Popular Vote agreement.

We will certainly keep tabs on all these bills and monitor their progress through the Legislative Session.


House Members File First Of Many Election Reform Bills

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.

Election Reform and “Reform” Bills Already Hitting The Senate

While we are still waiting on word of the true reform bill we are looking for, the Senate is busy introducing other bits of reform and some “reform”. Why the quotes? Well, some things that are called reform are far from it.

There are three bills introduced so far that will change elections in some fashion. Two of them are pretty good changes and the third is a move that would result in fewer people running for office. Fewer people engaged in the election process is never a good thing.

The first bill, SB 80, allows for county election boards to request an earlier starting time to begin counting absentee ballots. This means that if a county receives a large number of absentee ballots, it can request an earlier time before the election to begin counting them. This would likely result in a reduced burden in the week following the election and hopefully result in fewer miscounts.

The second bill, SB 99, changes how County Commissioner races are handled. Under this legislation, County Commissioners will no longer file or run under party labels. These non-partisan elections will hopefully result in less partisan rhetoric during elections and a greater emphasis on the actual candidates rather than their political leanings.

Under this new system, the way elections will be handled is as follows. If only one person files, that person automatically wins the seat, as currently happens in other races. If two people file, those two candidates go to a November election. If three or more people file, a non-partisan primary election is held. If the Primary election results in a single candidate winning 50% or more of the vote, that person wins the election. If no candidate wins 50% or more, then the top two candidates go on to the November election.

The final bill is a bit of a doozy and is the one that earns the quotes on reform. SB 76 doubles to triples (an original version of the bill, incorrectly listed the current fees thus making some seem to have tripled.) the fees required to file for various races for the state and US. The increases for the various races are as follows:

  • Governor goes from $1000 $1500 to $3000
  • US Senate goes from $750 $1000 to $2000
  • US Representative goes from $500 $750 to $1500
  • Lieutenant Governor, Corporation Commission, Attorney General, State Auditor and Inspector, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Treasurer, Commissioner of Insurance and Commissioner of Labor are all at $1000
  • All other state elections, such as State House and Senate, go from $200 to $400

I am seriously straining to find a real need for these changes. It is not as if Oklahoma suffers from a glut of candidates filing each year. If one is too look over the last decade or so of races, you will find that few races in November have more than three candidates on the ballot. If you look at Primary elections, the most I was able to find on a single primary race was eight. However, even in those races, it was often fairly easy for voters to narrow their choices.

Whatever the supposed reason for this bill, and we will be contacting Senator Fields about his reasoning, the most likely result will be fewer people running for office. In a state that teeters on fewer than 50% of races making it past the primaries to the November elections, that would be a very bad thing. It could further stagnate citizen participation in the election process. The key reason is that these increased fees will mean that candidates without established financial backers will be unable to pay the filing fees.

For an example of this, I ran for State House in 2010. The filing fee was $200 and I spent an additional $100 of my own money during the campaign. Had the filing fee been the $400 proposed, I would not have been able to afford the filing fee and would not have been able to run. While some incumbents might like that idea, it will result in a further decay of public trust in government.

We at Oklahomans For Ballot Access Reform encourage all to contact your State Senators and Representatives and ask them to oppose this bill. This is not the type of reform the State of Oklahoma needs. We need reform that will result in a more inclusive and better represented government and election process.