For nearly four decades Oklahoma has had one of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the United States. In 1974, Oklahoma Democratic legislators passed a bill that changed the petitioning requirement to form a new party and gain access to the highest election ticket in the state. This new law increased the number of signatures a new party would need to gather in order to gain ballot access from a flat 5,000 signatures to 5% of the vote cast in the last general election. This new requirement set in motion a series of events that would lead us to today in which Oklahoma has been the only state to limit its voters to two choices for President in the last three elections.
Fortunately, evidence is mounting that this is a failed policy not just in practical reasons but for idealogical reasons as well. As such, it is time for the Oklahoma Legislature to pass legitimate reform now.
Recently, the Federal Election Commission released its official 2012 Presidential Election results. With this report, the facts show that arguments against reform have no merit. The two most common arguments against reform are that voters will be confused and that alternative candidates will create a “spoiler effect” between the duopoly candidates. But when you analyze the election results, you will find that the data shows no evidence that voters were confused. In every state and D.C., the vast majority of voters had no problem finding and voting for one of the two duopoly candidates. On the “spoiler effect” front, no state in the U.S. had margins close enough that a lack of choice on the ballot would have flipped the election. If you look specifically at any one alternative candidate, none of them had enough votes to flip the election in any state.
Other facts show just how limited Oklahoma is with its choice at the ballot. The next lowest number of candidates available in any state is double that of Oklahoma. The average number of candidates on any ballot is eight or four times more than what is available in Oklahoma.
In a recent analysis of border states, Richard Winger of Ballot Access News showed evidence of how many Oklahoma voters were denied an opportunity to vote for Gary Johnson. Based on the vote percentage in bordering countries, Mr. Winger determined that Gary Johnson, had he been on the Oklahoma ballot in 2012, would have received about 20,000 votes. This is roughly 1.5% of the vote cast in Oklahoma. That is a far cry from disrupting the 67-33 percent election results that brought a Republican win in Oklahoma.
Today, the Oklahoma Legislature has on its general order in both houses, bills that would bring relief to Oklahoma voters and end this trend of denying them choice. The House has an opportunity to pass HB2134 that would return the signature requirement to the 5,000 it was before the change in 1974. However, the House Calendar Committee has failed to move on this bill. Based on the complaints of House Democrats, it would seem that any bill that does not fit the Republican agenda is having a lot of trouble being heard on the floor.
In other news, the Senate Bill, SB668, passed the Senate with little issue while keeping the 5% requirement and simply dropping the Presidential Elections from the equation. This disparity in language on the Senate side has held up reform in recent years and needs to stop. However, it is good to see the Senate more willing than the House to hear reform.
This makes me wonder if the House would even hear the Senate Bill if it refuses to hear its own. Unfortunately, no one on the House side is willing the respond to questions about the status of HB2134. If no one is willing to respond to questions, would they even be willing to vote on it? It is imperative that we contact the House Calendar Committee and specifically Committee Chair Pam Peterson and ask that they pass HB2134 to the Floor. There is one week left for the House to hear bills introduced by its members. As of Monday’s Calendar Agenda, HB2134 is not even scheduled to be heard by the Calendar Committee. That leaves Tuesday through Thursday for the bill to be heard. Which means HB2134 needs to be on the Calendar Agenda on Tuesday or Wednesday or the bill is dead for the year.
The House and Senate have nothing to lose from passing reform with a 5,000 signature requirement. It is time that Oklahoma joined the other states in allowing for voter choice and freedom in the Presidential elections. It is time to open the ballot up to new parties.