The Oklahoma Legislature has introduced a number of bills designed to changed the way Oklahoma runs its elections, and other areas of interest to OBAR. I want to take a quick look at these bills and explain what makes them good or what could be improved. In this first article, we look at the ballot access reform bills introduced.
There are three bills introduced this year that will reduce the number of signatures new parties need to form a new party. This has been a key reform OBAR and its supporters have been working toward for years. Under all three of these bills, the petition process will be greatly eased.
The first is HB1813 introduced by Representative Proctor. This bill reduces the number of signatures a new party would need from 5% of the last election to a flat 5,000 signatures. The second bill is HB2181 introduced by Representative Hickman. This bill reduces the number of signatures needed to form a new party to 1% of the last election.
The final bill is a little more complicated. It is SB318 introduced by Senator Holt. This one has a number of changes to various procedures. The two biggest and most import changes is that it reduces the petition for a new party from 5% to 2% of the last election and it reduces the petition to get an Independent Presidential candidate on the ballot from 3% to 2% of the last Presidential election. However, this bill also makes a number of other changes some of which could be problematic.
The first is that it adds a provision that allows newly formed parties the ability to terminate its recognition with the state. This amendment stems from the Americans Elect party which gained recognition in 2012 but did not run any candidates. Members of the state party attempted to get a candidate on the ballot but the state blocked their nomination because the national party decided not to nominate a candidate.
The bill then makes a number of other changes regarding presidential candidates and electors. First, it sets a deadline of 70 days prior to the November election for recognized parties to certify its President and Vice President candidates. This places the deadline in late August of most years. The most problematic change is that this bill changes the deadline for petitions for Independent candidates for President from July 15 to July 1 of the election year. This provision also changes the deadline for the submission of electors for these candidates from September 1 to August 15. These date changes are likely an attempt to align the deadlines for Independent candidates with those of recognized parties. Recognized parties have a deadline of 90 days prior to the election which places it in the first week of August. However, earlier petition deadlines have been problematic in the past and many states have lost lawsuits based around early deadlines.
What these bills do not address is the very high retention process for new parties. Oklahoma requires new parties to earn 10% of the vote for governor and president to retain party status. That is the second highest in the nation. All states surrounding Oklahoma have a retention requirement ranging from 1% of the vote for any statewide office to 3% of the vote for governor. Nor do these bills increase the time a party is recognized. Five of the six states surrounding Oklahoma recognize new parties for 4 years, meaning they only have to meet the vote test every other election. Without this change, it doesn’t matter what the petition requirement is, new parties will be forced to petition before every election.
Next, these bills, and primarily SB318, do not create a fee in lieu of petition for President. The office of President is the only office on the ballot that does not allow for the candidates to pay a fee rather than circulate a petition. It is our opinion that a fee should be introduced.
Finally, these bills do not agree on the number of signatures needed to form a new party. The biggest issue is that the Senate and House versions do not agree. This has been a very big barrier to passage in the past. It is clear that one of these needs to change. While we would love to see the signature requirement reduced to 5,000 signatures, that bill was introduced by a Democrat in a Republican controlled House and has a far tougher time at being heard. Rep. Hickman’s bill is more likely to make it to the House floor. So the trick would be to convince the Senate to lower their bill to 1%. If we can get them to lower the Presidential petitions to 1% as well, that would be even better.
We support these bills, even with the issues mentioned. We ask that you email, call and/or write your State Representative and Senator and ask them to support the passage of ballot access reform this year.