This year, three citizen initiative petitions kicked off to change Oklahoma’s laws. Two dealt with legalization of marijuana while the third dealt with school storm shelter funding. All three had a lot of support behind them, but all fell short of their signature goals.
In what is a clear consensus from supporters and observers of the petitioning process, the problem lies in the actual process itself. Oklahoma has some very strict rules regulating the petitioning process. We have seen and reported on this in regards to political parties for a while, but the problem doesn’t end there.
Oklahoma has three types of initiative petitions that allow citizens to get a question on the ballot, one to get an Constitutional Amendment on the ballot, one to amend state statute, and one as a referendum on legislation passed in the previous session. The signature requirements for each of these is a percentage of the last gubernatorial election, 15% for a constitutional amendment, 8% for a statute, and 5% for a referendum. But very few petitions are able to make it to the ballot.
In a report on the failure of this years petitions, News 9 of OKC wrote a comparison of Oklahoma’s petitioning laws and those of surrounding states, finding Oklahoma’s rules far more difficult.
Both Take Shelter Oklahoma and Medical Marijuana were initiatives for Constitutional Change. In Oklahoma that requires 15% of the gubernatorial vote, or just over 155,000 signatures, collected in 90 days.
Texas requires 10% of the vote collected in 180 days.
Arkansas requires 10% or 78,000 signatures to be collected in a time frame that’s unlimited.
Missouri requires 8% or about 157,000 signatures and the time frame varies but it could be up to 17 months.
Colorado asks for 5% of the total votes cast for the Secretary of State which is just over 86,000 signatures which must be collected six months.
The report also alludes to the need to change the rules, with comments from both Democratic Governor Nominee Joe Dorman and Governor Mary Fallin.
Additionally, The Oklahoman published an editorial in direct support for changing the process.
In Oklahoma, efforts to amend the state constitution require petition backers to gather signatures equal to 15 percent of the turnout for the last gubernatorial election — in this case, about 155,000 signatures. And they have just 90 days to gather them, the second-shortest period in the United States.
That’s too steep a hill to climb, as history shows. The only three statewide initiatives that have gotten to the ballot in the past 15 years sought to outlaw cockfighting (approved by voters in 2002), increase the state’s gasoline tax (rejected in 2005) and pump hundreds of millions of additional dollars into common education (rejected in 2010).
Six years ago Kent Meyers, a veteran Oklahoma City attorney with vast experience involving initiative petitions, told us he was concerned the process was becoming “inaccessible, except to the very few.” He was talking about the costs involved — groups can easily spend in excess of $2 million trying to get a petition from start to finish.
The last time the petitioning process was altered was in 2010, when a state question was posed to remove the presidential elections from the calculation. While this added a stabilizing effect to the number of signatures needed, it failed to address the two largest issues, the shear number of signatures needed and the minimal amount of time supporters have to gather them.
Just as Oklahoma’s party petitioning laws need to change to make the process easier, so does Oklahoma’s initiative petition process. We support a decrease in the number of signatures needed and an increase in the time allotted to gather them. Based on discussions with those who follow this process, one good suggestion is to decrease the signatures needed by half and increase the time to at least 12 months. This makes the process much easier and less reliant on wealthy special interests, while still acting as a buffer on less serious petitions.
I am stunned that Channel 9 would be at the forefront of reporting on this issue, being the most conservative-to-the-point-of-outright-bias news organization in Oklahoma. While I would have to seriously examine their motivatio, still bravo News 9. I may yet overturn my personally imposed ban on watching you.