Once again, Ballot Access Reform bills have been introduced in the House and Senate. Unfortunately, we are already off to a rocky start. While bills have been introduced in both houses of the State Legislature, each bill carries its own conflicting language.
First up, we have SB668, introduced by Senator Rob Johnson. This bill became available first and includes language that really offers no reprieve to new political parties. It modifies the current requirement of 5% of the last general election, which includes both the Presidential and Gubernatorial, to 5% of the last Gubernatorial election.
This is better in only the fact that no political parties have met the current requirement following Presidential election years. All new parties that have formed since the 1974 change have only been able to form in years following Gubernatorial elections. However, only 3 such parties have formed since the 80s. Considering the most recent example, the Americans Elect Party, was only able to form with considerable outside financial backing, we would continue to see a lack of political options in years to come.
Fortunately, the House version, HB2134 introduced by Representative Jeffrey Hickman, includes language consistent with the requirements prior to 1974. Under HB2134, a new party would be able to form after gathering only 5,000 signatures. This is a much more reasonable and fair requirement than the current 5% requirement.
However, due to the conflicting nature of these two bills, it will be difficult for true reform to pass this year without a fight. In the last Legislative Session, similar bills were filed. While both passed their respective houses, although the House version did not pass without an amendment that raised the requirement to 25,000 signatures, because of the conflicting language, the bills went to a Conference Committee which sat on them till the close of the session. This killed the chances of reform in both 2011 and 2012.
Another unfortunate oversight by those filing these bills is the lack of other needed reforms. Particularly in the area of retaining status. Oklahoma’s current requirement for retaining status is to win 10% of the total votes in the General Election. If a party does not field a candidate or does not win the 10% mark, they are removed from party status and must re-qualify. A better solution would be to make party status good for 4 years rather than the current 2 and to lower the General Election vote requirement to 1-5%.
Finally, neither of these bills tackle the statute language that immunizes the Democratic and Republican parties from these requirements. Under current law, if the Democratic or Republican parties fail to win 10% of the general Election vote, they will still retain official party recognition.
While these bills are not perfect, it is imperative that we contact our House and Senate representatives and encourage them to vote for these reforms. It is also important that we emphasize to our Senators, and specifically the Senate Rules Committee to amend the legislation to reflect the 5,000 signature requirement. We should also emphasize to the House Rules Committee to preserve the current language.