Oklahoma has a closed primary with an option for parties to choose to open them to Independent voters. Since this became law, neither the Republican nor Democratic parties have made that choice. With this vote, that has changed.
State Democratic Party Chairman Mark Hammons had this to say about the vote:
Today Oklahoma Democrats from across Oklahoma came together for a historic vote to allow Independent voters access to Democratic primary ballots in Oklahoma. Democrats have opened their arms in allowing Independent voters access to have a voice in deciding candidates before they are chosen for them.
If you have hopes that the State Republican Party will choose to follow suit, you might not want to get your hopes up. State Republican Party Chairman Randy Brogdon said Democrats were making a mistake.
He predicted the change would water down the Democratic Party’s base, and said he had no interest in making a similar move in the Republican Party.
“A majority of the independents have come from the Republican party primarily because we haven’t done an excellent job of promoting Republican principles of limited government and lower taxes,” Brogdon said. “We want to give them a reason to come back.”
How this choice will “water down” the Democratic party base is unclear.
This will be a great election for Independent voters. Representatives from both the Oklahoma Libertarian and Green parties have said that they will allow Independents to vote in any primaries they may have in the coming election. If the party petitions for the Libertarian and Green parties are successful, then Independents will have 3 primaries to choose from.
This past week, OETA ran a story on Oklahoma political parties and the fact that Oklahoma has no party alternatives to the Democratic and Republican parties.
The report starts with a historical look at the shifts in party registration among voters and how the Republican Party and Independents have increased voter registration while Democrats have lost registrations.
The report then went to the heads of the Oklahoma Republican and Democratic parties for their opinions on ballot access reform and got them on the record stating their positions.
Republican Party Chair Paul Weston made it very clear that the Oklahoma Republican party is opposed to ballot access reform. He stated, “If you are going to be viable enough, then go organize enough people together to where you can organize as a party and get your candidates on the ballot.” When asked if the threshold to form a new party should be lowered, he responded, “I think they are just fine where they are.” Meaning, he is fine with ballot access laws that keep competition off the ballot.
While Democratic Party Executive Director Trav Robertson was more open to the idea, he did not specifically say if his party is for reform or against it. When asked, he responded, “We would meet with those individuals in the legislature who are forced or tasked with making that decision and let them know that we believe that everyone should have access to the ballot box and that everyone has a right in a democracy to be a candidate for office.” While that is a great ideal, it is not a clear statement on whether people should be able to form new political parties without unnecessary hurdles placed by the government.
The report does have one error near the end. It mentions that a bill was introduced in the last session to ease the ballot access requirement. The report states that the bill was not heard on the floor. This is incorrect. The bill was heard, but because the Senate versions and the House version differed, it was sent to a conference committee which never came to a compromise to send to the Governor.
As a treat, we have this report from 2006 with a similar report from OETA following the candidacy of J. M. Branum.
Wow. 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.