Press Release: Governor Fallin Signs Historic Bill

On May 13, 2014, Oklahomans For Ballot Access Reform issued the following press release.

On Tuesday, Gov. Fallin approved the first change to Oklahoma’s political party ballot-access law in over four decades. HB2181, authored by Speaker Hickman, is a move towards ballot-access relief for the state’s unrecognized political parties.

HB2181 lowers the petition signature requirement to qualify a political party for the ballot. Since 1974, progressive parties have needed signatures of registered voters equal to 5% of the votes cast for governor or president in the last general election. Beginning Nov. 1, the number drops to 3% of the last vote for governor, only (excluding presidential vote).

To get on the ballot in 2016, petitioners need 24,745 under the new law. (Experienced petitioners aim for roughly double the required number to compensate for invalid signatures.) This is progress for citizens who’ve been shutout of the democratic process dating back to the Nixon administration; however, the change doesn’t relieve the state of its “worst ballot-access law” national title.

“Comparing mandatory petitions to qualify a new party or to have a new party appear on the ballot with the party name, Oklahoma is tied with Alabama now,” said Richard Winger, publisher of BALLOT ACCESS NEWS. “There is also a Rhode Island 5% party petition, a Minnesota 5% party petition, and a California 10% party petition. But none of these are mandatory. There are alternate, much easier methods for a new party to get on the ballot with its party label next to the names of its candidates.”

Winger is considered the leading expert on minor-party ballot access in the country. As he explained, Oklahoma is now tied with Alabama for highest signature requirement to get on the ballot with a party label, other than Democrat or Republican. Petitioning for party status is optional in states with higher requirements.

In OBAR’s 2015 BALLOT-ACCESS BRIEF, we listed our top priorities for ballot-access relief. HB2181 addresses only the first one:

  • Reducing or eliminating the petition signature requirement to form a new party
  • Extending the length of time a new party is recognized
  • Reducing the number of votes required to retain party recognition
  • Reducing or eliminating the petition signature requirement to place an Independent Presidential candidate on the ballot
  • Adding a write-in option to state election ballots
  • Repealing the straight-party voting option on state election ballots
  • Removing the names of Presidential Electors from the ballot

Attached to this release are statements from three progressive parties: Green Party of Oklahoma, Libertarian Party of Oklahoma, and the Justice Party of Oklahoma. Please share far and wide!

Accompanying the press release, the Green, Justice and Libertarian Parties issued the following statements.

Green Party – The Green Party of Oklahoma has contributed time and resources to the effort to regain ballot access for the last 16 years. H.B. 2181 is the result of supreme patience and persistence, and enduring faith in democracy. Without access to the ballot, organizing as an alternative political party to enrich democracy in the state of Oklahoma is virtually impossible. Because the Green Party believes in decentralization of power in government structures, ensuring that voters have a wide scope of choices is critical. Many Oklahomans who are registered voters choose not to vote. As a result, voter participation in the state has been low in the last several elections. This is a major problem for a democracy. We think a central cause is the lack of representation on the ballot. Without candidates who represent the diversity of political perspectives present in Oklahoma’s population, voters who represent these alternative positions are alienated from the polls and effectively disenfranchised. In order for all Oklahomans to enjoy the benefits of their voting rights, candidates who represent their interests must have the right to be included on the ballot. Voter rights and candidate rights are bound together. The changes to the current ballot access laws via HB2181 opens up the possibility for progress towards greater political representation and participation. We still have work to do to return the number of petition signatures required to the original number of 5,000 before the law was changed in 1974. However, after many years of organization and effort around this issue, HB2181 is a longawaited, positive signal that the goal of ballot access for alternative parties in the state will be realized.

Justice Party – The Oklahoma Justice Party would like to thank Governor Fallin for signing HB2181, as well as Speaker Hickman and others for shepherding the bill to her desk. While the bill doesn’t go far enough in returning Oklahoma to its populist roots, it is recognition of the problem and a small step in the right direction.

Libertarian Party – Today marks an important milestone in Oklahoma history; a day in which the state Legislature and Governor not only acknowledged the harmful nature of Oklahoma’s ballot access laws but also made an effort to ease that burden. The Libertarian Party of Oklahoma acknowledges that any movement toward ballot access reform in our state is to be celebrated to some extent. Speaker Hickman should be congratulated for his multiple years of effort and work in realizing this important first step in healing Oklahoma’s broken political and electoral climate. However, we feel the bill that was eventually signed by Governor Fallin maintains the punitive nature of Oklahoma’s current system and in that respect it is both disappointing and frustrating. We hope that the Legislature and Governor recognize that this is only a first step and will continue to pass meaningful reform in coming legislative sessions.

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