UPDATE: Call Senator Justice’s Office In Support Of HB2181

Update: The call blast when great yesterday. We received quite a few reports of calls going straight to voicemail, which means that we had a lot of people calling. Thank you all so much.

Unfortunately, Senator Justice did not schedule a Rules Committee meeting for this week. That means that we have one week left for HB2181 to be heard in committee. We plan on holding a similar event for both Monday and Tuesday of next week (April 6 and 7). So be prepared to do it all over again. We will get this bill passed to the Senate Floor.

Original post: We need your help convincing Senator Ron Justice, the Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, to let HB2181 be heard in committee.

What is HB2181?
HB2181 reduces the petition requirement to form a new political party in Oklahoma. Current law requires new parties to gather a number of signatures equal to 5% of the last general election vote count. For 2016, the petition requirement to form a new party is 41,188 signatures. If HB2181 were to pass this year, that requirement would be reduced to 1% of the last governor’s election, or 8,249 signatures. This will result in more political parties for voters to register under, more Presidential candidates for voters to choose from and a greater pool of political ideas in this state.

We have 2 weeks left for HB2181 to be heard in committee. If it is not heard and passed by April 9, the bill would be dead and we won’t see any changes to Oklahoma’s laws for another 2 years, and Oklahoma will most likely be the only state in the nation with 2 candidates for President for 4 elections in a row in 2016.

So what do you need to do? On Tuesday March 31 starting at 10am and ending at 12pm (noon), we want to keep Senator Justice’s phone ringing with calls in support of HB2181. For two straight hours, we want nothing to happen in his office if it does not involve a phone call about that bill.

What is his phone number?
(405) 521-5537

Please remember when you call to be courteous and kind. Senator Justice’s Assistant is named Linda Terrill. She is a real nice woman and will be doing her job. And that job will be really tough for 2 hours. Don’t make it more difficult.

Also, be patient. If you don’t get through on the phone right away, hang up and try again after 30 seconds or a minute. Each phone call shouldn’t take too long.

What should you say?

First, tell him your name.

Then, tell Senator Justice that you support HB2181 and you want it heard in committee and passed to the Senate Floor.

That is all you have to say. If you want to say more, keep it relevant to the bill. For example, you can tell them that you support the bill because you want more political parties to choose from in Oklahoma. Or you can say that you want more choices for president than the options given to us by the Republican and Democratic parties.

Most importantly, tell him that HB2181 must pass.

So to recap:

What? Call Senator Justice’s office. (405) 521-5537
When? March 31, 2015 from 10am to 12pm (noon)
Why? In support of HB2181.

Read HB2181 here.

If you want to learn more about why Oklahoma needs to reform its ballot access laws, please read our brief.

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Ballot Access Bill Advances To The Senate

On March 10, 2015, the Oklahoma House passed Speaker Hickman’s ballot access reform bill, HB2181, on a vote of 90-0. There were no abstaining members of the House, all members present voted in favor of the bill. This is the most support a ballot access bill has ever had in the Oklahoma House.

In 2014, HB2134 passed the House on a vote of 74-11. In 2011, HB1058 passed the House on a vote of 69-17. In 2009, HB1072 passed the House on a vote of 86-5. While all these bills passed the House, those that made it through the Senate ended up in Conference Committee where the bills died.

HB2181 would reduce the petitioning burden for new political parties by changing the current requirement of 5% of the last general election to 1% of the last election for Governor. This is a change from about 41,000 signatures to about 8,200 signatures. This reduction in signatures to form a new party will improve Oklahoma’s political climate as well as open the Oklahoma Presidential ballot to alternative candidates from parties that had been blocked from Oklahoma voters in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

Now that HB2181 has passed the House, it has moved to the Senate where Senator Quinn will be working to get it through the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Floor. We are working to insure that this bill is not amended during this process as we need it to advance and pass this year. No previous bill has ever been able to survive the Senate without amendments, so we hope this one will be the first.

In order for this to happen, we need to put pressure on the Senate Rules Committee, particularly with the Committee Chair, Senator Justice, to pass this bill now and do so without amendment. We ask that if your Senator is on this committee that you call them and ask them to vote in favor of the bill as it stands. We also ask that you take time to call Senator Justice’s office and ask him to hear the bill now rather than wait.

The Senate Rules Committee has until April 9 to vote on the bill. However, the Rules Committee does not have regularly scheduled meetings. The Committee only meets when the Chair wants them to meet. That means if Senator Justice does not want to advance any bill, he can just avoid holding a meeting.

So again, we ask that you call your Senator if they are a member of the Rules Committee and also call Senator Justice and express your support for HB2181 and ask that it be heard in committee and passed to the Senate Floor.

If you would like to learn more about why this reform is needed and prepare yourself for potential questions about the bill, you can read our Ballot Access Brief.

Legislative Brief: The Case For Ballot Access Reform In Oklahoma

Oklahomans For Ballot Access Reform has published our Ballot Access Brief highlighting the evidence in favor of a number of reforms Oklahoma needs to make in order to bring about fair, free and equal elections.

In this brief, we present poll data and voting results which shows that voters throughout the US and in Oklahoma are falling out of favor with the two duopoly parties and wish to see a new party rise.

We then discuss the need and evidence in support of the following reforms:

  • 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

Finally we address the objections many people make when defending Oklahoma’s current harsh ballot access laws.

We feel that this brief will be an important tool in reforming Oklahoma’s laws and make it easier for citizens of Oklahoma to exercise their right to form and join any party of their choosing and vote for their favored candidates.

We ask that all of you read this brief and share it with your friends, family and most importantly your state Representative and Senator.

Read the brief, The Case For Ballot Access Reform In Oklahoma, below or download the pdf.

Three Ballot Access Reform Bills Introduced This Session

The Oklahoma Legislature has introduced a number of bills designed to changed the way Oklahoma runs its elections, and other areas of interest to OBAR. I want to take a quick look at these bills and explain what makes them good or what could be improved. In this first article, we look at the ballot access reform bills introduced.

There are three bills introduced this year that will reduce the number of signatures new parties need to form a new party. This has been a key reform OBAR and its supporters have been working toward for years. Under all three of these bills, the petition process will be greatly eased.

The first is HB1813 introduced by Representative Proctor. This bill reduces the number of signatures a new party would need from 5% of the last election to a flat 5,000 signatures. The second bill is HB2181 introduced by Representative Hickman. This bill reduces the number of signatures needed to form a new party to 1% of the last election.

The final bill is a little more complicated. It is SB318 introduced by Senator Holt. This one has a number of changes to various procedures. The two biggest and most import changes is that it reduces the petition for a new party from 5% to 2% of the last election and it reduces the petition to get an Independent Presidential candidate on the ballot from 3% to 2% of the last Presidential election. However, this bill also makes a number of other changes some of which could be problematic.

The first is that it adds a provision that allows newly formed parties the ability to terminate its recognition with the state. This amendment stems from the Americans Elect party which gained recognition in 2012 but did not run any candidates. Members of the state party attempted to get a candidate on the ballot but the state blocked their nomination because the national party decided not to nominate a candidate.

The bill then makes a number of other changes regarding presidential candidates and electors. First, it sets a deadline of 70 days prior to the November election for recognized parties to certify its President and Vice President candidates. This places the deadline in late August of most years. The most problematic change is that this bill changes the deadline for petitions for Independent candidates for President from July 15 to July 1 of the election year. This provision also changes the deadline for the submission of electors for these candidates from September 1 to August 15. These date changes are likely an attempt to align the deadlines for Independent candidates with those of recognized parties. Recognized parties have a deadline of 90 days prior to the election which places it in the first week of August. However, earlier petition deadlines have been problematic in the past and many states have lost lawsuits based around early deadlines.

What these bills do not address is the very high retention process for new parties. Oklahoma requires new parties to earn 10% of the vote for governor and president to retain party status. That is the second highest in the nation. All states surrounding Oklahoma have a retention requirement ranging from 1% of the vote for any statewide office to 3% of the vote for governor. Nor do these bills increase the time a party is recognized. Five of the six states surrounding Oklahoma recognize new parties for 4 years, meaning they only have to meet the vote test every other election. Without this change, it doesn’t matter what the petition requirement is, new parties will be forced to petition before every election.

Next, these bills, and primarily SB318, do not create a fee in lieu of petition for President. The office of President is the only office on the ballot that does not allow for the candidates to pay a fee rather than circulate a petition. It is our opinion that a fee should be introduced.

Finally, these bills do not agree on the number of signatures needed to form a new party. The biggest issue is that the Senate and House versions do not agree. This has been a very big barrier to passage in the past. It is clear that one of these needs to change. While we would love to see the signature requirement reduced to 5,000 signatures, that bill was introduced by a Democrat in a Republican controlled House and has a far tougher time at being heard. Rep. Hickman’s bill is more likely to make it to the House floor. So the trick would be to convince the Senate to lower their bill to 1%. If we can get them to lower the Presidential petitions to 1% as well, that would be even better.

We support these bills, even with the issues mentioned. We ask that you email, call and/or write your State Representative and Senator and ask them to support the passage of ballot access reform this year.

AG Pruitt Gets It So Very Wrong On Petitioning In Oklahoma

Ballot Access Reform is gaining more and more allies everyday. We have the media, think tanks, many people and political organizations on our side. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more clear that we will have few friends in leadership positions in our own state government. Thankfully, many of those leaders are outing themselves as ignorant on the issue of ballot access reform. The latest political leader to get ballot access wrong is Oklahoma’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

In a recent op-ed in the Tulsa World, AG Pruitt spoke at length about his lawsuit against Colorado over its citizen led and passed legalization of marijuana. Buried in that op-ed was a nice nugget of ignorance of ballot access.

In Oklahoma, for example, where it’s relatively easy to get a state question on the ballot (ask any voter who’s had to navigate a host of such questions on Election Day), a recent well-funded and well-organized effort to get a marijuana legalization question on the ballot managed to garner a meager 75,000 signatures — less than half the number needed, and a number that equates to less than 2 percent of Oklahoma’s population. In other words, Oklahoma’s people have spoken loud and clear: They believe marijuana to be a harmful drug that shouldn’t be legal in any circumstance.

There is so much wrong with this statement that I will have to break it apart and rebut it piece by piece. First up:

In Oklahoma, for example, where it’s relatively easy to get a state question on the ballot

This is so wrong on many levels. Oklahoma’s initiative process is not all easy. News 9 recently ran an article that compared Oklahoma’s initiative process to other states in the nation. They found that Oklahoma consistently requires more signatures and shorter time frames for gathering them than surrounding states.

(ask any voter who’s had to navigate a host of such questions on Election Day)

How about instead of asking the voters, who may not know if a question got there via initiative petition or not, and ask the State Legislature that in reality fills the ballot with questions. This past election had a remarkable three questions on it. All three were put there by the Legislature. 2012 saw six state questions, all put there by the Legislature. 2010 had an astounding ten questions, only one of which was via initiative petition. That particular one only made it because it was funded by national teachers unions, who are very wealthy and quite skilled in petitioning. So AG Pruitt, what was that you said about the ease of getting a question on the ballot?

a recent well-funded and well-organized effort to get a marijuana legalization question on the ballot managed to garner a meager 75,000 signatures — less than half the number needed, and a number that equates to less than 2 percent of Oklahoma’s population.

Now, let’s be clear here. I do not know a lot about the actual organizations who ran the two marijuana petitions this year. But from all accounts, neither one was very well organized or funded. Both were run by novice petition organizers and did not have the roughly $1 million needed to successfully run a petition drive in such a short time span.

But on to the real meat of this chunk. This particular petition drive he refers to gathered 75,000 signatures. He talks about how this is somehow impressive. However, he is referring to raw signatures, not valid signatures. The Secretary of State’s office does not validate signatures unless the number turned in meets or exceeds the required number. According to the Secretary of State’s rules, if a petition is challenged, the signatures collected will be validated. (thanks to Norma Sapp for the correction)Generally, between 30 and 50% of signatures will be invalidated in one way or another. So these 75,000 signatures would have likely ended up as many as 50,000 and as few as 40,000 valid signatures. That is a lot further from the required goal than Pruitt leads on.

In other words, Oklahoma’s people have spoken loud and clear: They believe marijuana to be a harmful drug that shouldn’t be legal in any circumstance.

Here AG Pruitt makes the mistake of conflating petition response to actual voters at the polls. This is not at all an indication of the will of the people. Petitions can fail for a variety of reasons but it is not until a petition succeeds and makes it on the ballot that the voice of the people is actually heard. That did not happen in this case. The people of Oklahoma never got the chance to vote on the issue.

So with this much disinformation in a single quote, it is clear that those seeking to reform Oklahoma’s petitioning requirements will not find an ally in our Attorney General.

Ballot Access Reform Has A New Ally In Oklahoma Policy Institute

Momentum is building for change in Oklahoma’ election laws. Every election in recent years has seen fewer voters than elections before it. Fewer people are running for office. We are stuck with the two party duopoly we have had for decades. However, every year more and more people join the fight to open up Oklahoma’s elections.

The latest ally in this fight is the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Yesterday, OKPI published their latest issue brief, Repairing Oklahoma’s Broken Democracy. In this brief, OKPI discusses the various problems stemming from Oklahoma’s laws such as low voter turnout, low voter registration, low number of candidates and more. They also propose a number of solutions that we at Oklahomans For Ballot  Access Reform can get behind.

These reforms include:

  • Voter Information Pamphlets
  • Online Voter Registration
  • Extended Mail-in Voting
  • Ballot Access Reform
  • Open Primaries
  • Instant Run-off Primaries

If you want to learn more, you can download the executive summary or the full brief. It is well worth the read and definitely something to share with your Representative and Senator in the Oklahoma Legislature.

The Oklahoman Published Editorial About Ballot Access In 2016

Last Month, we wrote about how Oklahoma’s low voter turnout is good news for petitioners in 2016. Shortly after, the Oklahoman published an editorial that references that article, although without a link. In this editorial, the Oklahoman Editorial Board agrees that this is good news, but that the burden is still too high.

In talking about the failed petitions from this past election cycle, the Oklahoman states that voter turnout might have been higher had they made it to the ballot.

We termed this a “glimmer” of good news because it’s only that — a slight opening in the brick wall that prevents most initiative petitions and alternative candidacies from reaching the ballot. Imagine the increase in turnout had referenda involving school storm shelters and marijuana law liberalization made the 2014 ballot.

Instead, Oklahoma’s overly burdensome ballot access requirements helped limit the referenda list to three noncontroversial state questions that had been advanced by the Legislature rather than petition organizers.

They state that the signature burden and the limited time to gather those signatures needs reformed.

What is burdensome in Oklahoma is ballot access. Not only do initiative petitions require too many signatures, but the circulation period is limited to 90 days. More time is needed.

Finally, the note that 2016 could be the fourth election in a row without an alternative Presidential Candidate on the ballot.

Knight says that without access reform, 2016 will be the fourth consecutive presidential election in which no alternative party nominees will be on the Oklahoma ballot. Oklahoma is the only state in which a new or previously unqualified party needs support from more than 2 percent of votes cast in the previous general election.

If the threshold were 1 percent, the Libertarian Party’s next presidential nominee would make the 2016 ballot because a Libertarian candidate for governor this year got nearly 2 percent of the vote.

It is good news that Oklahoma largest newspaper has not turned its back on its 2012 editorial in which it called out Oklahoma’s harsh ballot access laws.

In Which We Respond To Comments To Our Letter To The Editor

Over the weekend, we had a letter to the editor published to both NewsOK and at the Tulsa World. Both sites, published the letter with little modifications. The letter itself is mostly a rehash of our earlier article about Oklahoma’s low voter turnout and its impact on future petitions. It also called for real reform to pass.

However, there was one problem. I wanted to respond to a comment on the Tulsa World which I felt poorly reflected on the current petitioning climate. Tulsa World reader J. Lee wrote:

It appears that many people don’t really care what happens. But that is absolutely no reason to lower the party petitioning burden especially to what it was 40-50 years ago since the population has increased over a million since that time.

Any entity which lowers it standards to appease a few will eventually be left with no standards.

What J. Lee wrote here does a real disservice to those seeking to form a new party in Oklahoma. It is based on the false premise that Oklahoma’s petitioning laws and the change in 1974 was based on some actual reasoning based on population. That is not true at all.

The problem with this is that the Tulsa World’s commenting policy prevents me from responding to this comment directly. The Tulsa World wants me to pay nearly $200 just to comment on articles of interest. That is not happening. So instead, I am responding here in the hopes that interested people will read it and misinformation will be cleared away. If anyone out there has a subscription or still has commenting enabled because they have not reached their monthly ration of articles, feel free to respond to J. Lee with the following:

Let me lay out a few facts for you. I hope that I won’t have to explain any of this too much.

Population of Oklahoma:
1970 – 2,559,063
2010 – 3,751,351
Percent Changed – 46.6%

Voting Population of Oklahoma:
1972 Presidential Election (last election before new rules went into effect) – 1,057,396
2012 Presidential Election (most recent similar election) – 1,334,872
Percent Changed – 26.2%

1974 party petitioning requirement – 5,000 signatures or 0.47% of the 1972 vote
2014 party petitioning requirement – 66,744 or 5% of the vote cast in 2012
Percent Changed – 1,235%

If we wanted to adjust the number of signatures needed to form a new party based on population, then we would have this amount:
5,000 plus a 46.6% change = 7,330 signatures today.

However, if we base it off of voting population, we would get this number:
5,000 plus a 26.2% change = 6,310

Both of those calculations are far far smaller than the current signature requirement that is 1235% higher than it was in 1972.

So do you want to rethink your position?

Again, I would love to respond myself. When I aired my issues with the Tulsa World on Twitter, their only response was to upsell me on a subscription. They offered no real solution. I guess, if anyone wants a real conversation on a news site, they will have to go with NewsOK where all you need is a free account to read everything and comment to all articles.

Libertarian Party Ballot Access Gains Highlights Oklahoma’s Harsh Retention Test

In a blog post on the Libertarian Party’s website, the LP announces that it has gained or retained ballot access in 30 states across the nation. Among these states are almost all of Oklahoma’s neighbors Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Missouri. The only state missing is Arkansas. The Libertarian candidate for Governor of Arkansas, Frank Gilbert, received 1.92% of the vote which fell short of the 3% requirement. (Update: We mistakenly forgot Arkansas at the time of publishing.)

In addition to this news, this report highlights just how ridiculous Oklahoma’s ballot access retention test is. If a party manages to successfully petition to get on the ballot, a feat few parties are able to attain, in order to retain that access for a second election, the party would need to field a candidate for the top ticket, Governor or President, and earn 10% of the vote for that election.

This past governor’s election, there was one Independent candidate that is a member of the Libertarian Party, Richard Prawdzienski. He gained 1.1% of the vote, far below what would be required had the Libertarian Party had ballot access in Oklahoma. However, in many states across the nation, 1% is all that is needed to retain ballot access.

You can see by the LP’s blog post. They gained access in the following states that only require 1% of the vote Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Additionally, many states do not require a percentage of the vote on the top ticket. Several states have other requirements. For example, Idaho only requires a party to field 3 or more candidates in state or federal offices. Other states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia, require a percentage of votes cast for other seats or combination of seats.

Of the three states in which the the LP did not retain ballot access, all three have much easier retention rules than Oklahoma. Iowa requires only 2% of the vote cast for Governor, New York requires 50,000 votes, and Illinois requires 5% for Comptroller.

All this illustrates that reforming Oklahoma’s petitioning requirement is not enough. We also need to reform Oklahoma’s party retention test. Prior to 1974, the test was only 1% of the vote cast for Governor or President. We need to return to that as well. It would also be good to change the vote test to only be required every four years rather than every election.

If these rules could be changed, Oklahoma voters would have a far better election climate.

Oklahoma’s Low Voter Turnout Is Good News For Party Petitioners

Voter Turnout As A Percentage Of VotersAs votes are counted following Oklahoma’s 2014 election, one thing is clear, Oklahoma has had one of its worst voter turnout rates in well over 20 years. Based on current data available (voter registrations, election results) from the Oklahoma Election Board, less than 41% of voters turned out to vote for governor.

While this low voter turnout has severe repercussions for Oklahoma’s political climate, with many elections decided at filing or in the primaries. It also means that the governor of Oklahoma was chosen by less than 25% of Oklahoma’s registered voters.

However, there is a bright side to this low number. Those seeking to form a new political party or circulate an initiative petition will need far fewer signatures to be successful in the run up to the next election in 2016.

Based on current voter turnout numbers, to form a new party in Oklahoma for the 2016 Presidential election, those circulating the petition will need only 41,188 signatures, compared to the 51,738 signatures needed in the run up to the 2012 Presidential election. That is a decrease of 10,550 signatures, or a decrease of 20.4%. Similar trends can be found for initiative petitions. This is the fewest raw signatures needed since the lead up to the 2000 Presidential election and the 1984 Presidential election before it.

This means two things. The first is that one or more new parties could be on the ballot in 2016. It also means that petitions that failed this year, could make it on the ballot two years from now. This is a great time to be a petitioner in Oklahoma.