SB896 Signed Into Law By Governor Fallin

On Thursday, May 5, 2015, Governor Fallin signed SB896 into law. This law lowers the vote test needed for parties to retain recognition in Oklahoma. The previous requirement was 10% of the vote for President or Governor. Now, parties only need to gain 2.5% of the vote.

This year, the lower retention requirement will only really apply to the Libertarian Party, which successfully petitioned to gain recognition. However, if the Libertarian Party is successful in retaining its recognition, it will inspire other parties to attempt the petition.

With a lower petition requirement and a lower retention requirement, Oklahoma can see new parties arise and stay in place long enough to gain significant traction.

Yet, the work is not done yet. We still have a number of reforms we are fighting for, including lowering the petition requirement for independent presidential candidates, getting rid of straight party voting, and getting a write-in option in Oklahoma. We also feel that the petition and retention requirement for new parties is still too high.

SB896 On Its Way To Governor Fallin

SB896 is on its way to the governor’s desk. If it is signed into law, and should be within the week, it will reduce the percentage of the vote a party needs to get in the Presidential and Governor races to stay recognized. Currently, parties need to win 10% of the vote to maintain recognition. SB896 lowers that to 2.5%.

Oklahoma’s current 10% requirement is one of the strictest in the nation. While the reduction to 2.5% is a sizable decrease, it is still higher than the average of the surrounding states. OBAR supports a further decrease to 1% and making party status valid for a total of 4 years instead of the current 2. That means a party need only meet the vote test every other election rather than every election. OBAR also supports including more statewide elections into the mix including but not limited to US Senate and statewide elected executive positions such as Lt Governor and State Superintendent.

Senate Rules Committee Passes 2.5% Retention Test And Straight Ticket Repeal

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.

Senator Loveless Introduces Bill To Lower Vote Test For New Parties

While a bill was passed this last year lowering the number of signatures needed to form a new party from 5% of the last vote to 3% of the last vote for Governor, that does little for new political parties and the voters that support them if the 10% vote test to retain party recognition stays in place. To tackle this issue, Senator Loveless has introduced SB896 which would lower the vote test from 10% to 2.5%.

That is a significant drop and is far more reasonable, even though it is not the 1% we support as part of our Ballot Access Brief. Still, this is a fairly difficult task for a new party. In 2012, the Libertarian party failed to meet Arkansas’ vote test of 3% after Gary Johnson polled 1.5% of the vote. In 2014, the Libertarian Party of Arkansas also failed to reach that test. In comparison, all other states surrounding Oklahoma have much easier vote tests and the Libertarian party was able to retain party recognition in each of them.

While any movement in a positive direction is good, and such a sizable reduction, is welcome, we would love to see more. Primarily, we recommend reducing the vote test to 1% of the vote. We also recommend that party recognition should be for 4 years rather than the current 2 years. By switching to a 4 year period of retention, new parties will have more time to form an election strategy to meet the requirement without the looming threat of having to petition again.

Still, we hope that the Senate and the House will pass this bill without amending it to be higher than the 2.5% of the the vote the bill currently has. If it must be amended, it should be amended to lower that vote test.

For now, we recommend that you contact your state Senator and Representative and demand that SB896 passes. This bill is sorely needed in Oklahoma if last year’s reduction of petitions is to have any meaning.

Libertarian, Green parties to launch joint petition drive, asking for volunteers


The newly-formed Libertarian/Green Coalition is asking for volunteers to help get Green and Libertarian candidates on the 2016 election ballot, with their respective party labels.

Each party must gather the state’s required number of signatures – 24,745 – by March 1, 2016 to become ballot-qualified. Party leaders believe that, by working together, they can attract and coordinate enough petitioners to ensure that Oklahomans get their first alternative-party options since 2000.

Anyone interested in joining this historic endeavor is invited to a free, volunteer petitioner’s training event, from 1 – 2 p.m. Saturday, June 20, in Rooms A-B on the fourth floor of the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library, 300 Park Avenue, in Oklahoma City. We’ll have T-shirts, custom-made for this campaign, available to attendees who donate to the cause. (Donations will help cover our room reservation and our printing costs for forms and shirts.)

Read and share the PRESS RELEASE. Please join our Facebook event!

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.

Ballot Access Reform Becomes A Reality

Yesterday evening, Governor Fallin signed HB2181 into law. As we have said many times before, this is the first time since 1974 that the Oklahoma government has eased ballot access voluntarily. Yet, there is still much work to be done.

This law now goes into effect on November 1, 2015. After that time, new parties will need only 24,745 valid signatures to form. So there is a good chance that the 2016 ballot will have more than 2 parties represented and more than 2 candidates for President.

Ballot Access Reform Moves To The Governor’s Desk

Today, both the House and the Senate signed off on the final version of HB2181 and it now goes to the desk of Governor Fallin for a final signature and into law. If she signs this bill into law, she will be making an unprecedented move in Oklahoma since 1974. Like we said in our last post, this will be the first time since that year that the Oklahoma government has voluntarily eased ballot access.

If this bill is signed by Governor Fallin, that would mean that new parties in Oklahoma would need only 24,745 valid signatures to gain recognition for the 2016 elections rather than 41,242 signatures. This could mean that Oklahoma will break its losing streak of having only 2 candidates and parties on the ballot for President. While this is a considerable step, the signature requirement is still much higher than the requirements of the surrounding states and considerably higher than the 5,000 signatures we have been fighting for for more than 15 years.

It is not clear when Governor Fallin will sign the bill, but we don’t expect any complications at this point. We will keep you up to date on this next step in the process.

The Oklahoma Legislation Does The Unprecedented And Agrees On Ballot Access Reform

On April 22, 2015, the Oklahoma Senate passed HB2181 with the language that came out of the Rules Committee. There was no discussion or debate. The bill then went back to the House for consideration of the Senate amendment.

On May 6, the House held a vote on the Senate amendments and voted to approve them with a unanimous 83-0 vote. So with that, the bill goes to the governor for final approval.

This is a major step in Oklahoma ballot access reform. For years, the Oklahoma Legislature has stalled on ballot access reform because the House and Senate could not agree on language. Additionally, the Oklahoma Legislature has not voluntarily eased ballot access since they changed the law to its current language in 1974. The only times that access had been eased had been as an obligation due to a court ruling.

With the passage of this bill, new political parties will need only 3% of the last governor election or 24,745 signatures to form a new party. This bill also removes the presidential elections from the equation which will end the fluctuation in petition requirements between elections.

However, this bill is far from what Oklahoma voters deserve. We at Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform still feel that 5,000 signatures is the only just petition requirement. The change from 5,000 to 5% was completely unjustified and ultimately deadly to political competition in Oklahoma. While we approve of any step in the right direction, the Legislature still has a long way to go before Oklahoma has truly free and equal elections.

To learn more about improvements that need to happen in Oklahoma, you can read our Ballot Access Brief.

Ballot Access Passes Out Of Rules Committee With Amendments

On April 8, HB2181 passed out of the Senate Rules Committee. Unfortunately, the Senate Rules Committee took the route of cowards and amended the bill by changing the 1% petition to a 3% petition. They did keep the language that removed the presidential elections from the calculation.

This is unfortunate because the Senate has pulled this maneuver every time ballot access reform has been introduced. The goal of making these changes is to 1) force the bill to go to a conference committee where the bill can quietly die. 2) claim that they passed ballot access reform but be able to pass the buck to the House, who is more willing to pass real reform, when the bill fails to pass conference when the House stands its ground.

The good news is that the amendment was not passed unanimously. There were at least two no votes on the amendment but possibly more. The Rules Chair, Senator Justice, held a voice vote and determined the votes in favor of the amendment to be the winning vote. It would have been preferable to have a roll vote, but it was not our choice.

The bill finally passed out of the committee on a vote of 11-1 with the loan no vote coming from Senator Floyd. When asked for comment on her no vote, Senator Floyd responded that she voted against the bill because it was not the bill the House passed. Had the bill not been amended, she would have voted for it.

We are working on finding out more information on who voted against the amendment and will report when we know more. Until then, we are working on finding out if we can get a floor amendment introduced when the bill comes up for a vote with the full senate. We would like to see if we can get the original 1% language put back on the bill.

We don’t know how receptive the Senate Leadership will be to a floor amendment of this nature. Chances are, they will not bring it up or it will be voted down but it needs to be brought up. Again, we will let you know when we have more information.