On Wednesday February 17, the Senate Rules Committee heard three election reform bills and passed them all unanimously. The two really important bills were SB896, the bill that lowers the party retention test from the current 10% of the vote to 2.5%, and SB1108, which removes the Straight Ticket device from the November ballots.
Both were heard and passed the committee. They now move to the full Senate, where they will hopefully be heard soon.
Also heard was SB1016 which removes party labels from voter registration forms. This bill also passed and moves on.
We will have more about all these bills going forward.
Last year, Senator Holt introduced a number of great bills and a couple of bad bills attempting to reform Oklahoma’s election system. This year, he has introduced yet another bill that could have some mixed results for the state and new political parties.
This year, Senator Holt introduced SB1016. This bill makes some changes to the voter registration process to make it easier for the State and County Election Boards to verify the identifying information on the voter registration form. This could make it easier to verify and complete the voter registration process.
However, the bill also contains language that changes how voters identify which party they wish to join. Currently, all recognized political parties are listed on the forms and a voter simply checks the box for the party they wish to identify with. There is also a box with a blank line which voters can check and then write in the name of the party they wish to join. Under the current system, if a new party gains recognition, the forms will have to be reprinted to include that new party. The old forms are still valid as voters can write in the name of the new party, but the state is required by law to print new forms.
Under the language in SB1016, the check boxes will be removed and in their place will be a blank line on which voters write in their party preference. While this change would make it so that the state does not have to reprint the forms every time a new party is formed, it will also make it more difficult for new parties to gain new members. If voters have to write in the party they wish to join, new parties will have to manage massive registration campaigns that could distract from other duties.
This change could also have an unintended affect on the duopoly Republican and Democratic parties as well. If voters have to write in their party of choice, more registering voters may end up just leaving the line blank. This will result in those voters being registered as independents. This could mean an even greater increase in the number of voters registered as independents in the state.
While saving the state money on printing costs is a noble goal, we wonder if doing so at the expense of new parties is worth it.