Major News Outlets Coming Out Against Oklahoma’s Petitioning Process

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.

OETA Reports on Major Party Unwillingness to Share Elections With Alternative Parties

This past week, OETA ran a story on Oklahoma political parties and the fact that Oklahoma has no party alternatives to the Democratic and Republican parties.

The report starts with a historical look at the shifts in party registration among voters and how the Republican Party and Independents have increased voter registration while Democrats have lost registrations.

The report then went to the heads of the Oklahoma Republican and Democratic parties for their opinions on ballot access reform and got them on the record stating their positions.

Republican Party Chair Paul Weston made it very clear that the Oklahoma Republican party is opposed to ballot access reform. He stated, “If you are going to be viable enough, then go organize enough people together to where you can organize as a party and get your candidates on the ballot.” When asked if the threshold to form a new party should be lowered, he responded, “I think they are just fine where they are.” Meaning, he is fine with ballot access laws that keep competition off the ballot.

While Democratic Party Executive Director Trav Robertson was more open to the idea, he did not specifically say if his party is for reform or against it. When asked, he responded, “We would meet with those individuals in the legislature who are forced or tasked with making that decision and let them know that we believe that everyone should have access to the ballot box and that everyone has a right in a democracy to be a candidate for office.” While that is a great ideal, it is not a clear statement on whether people should be able to form new political parties without unnecessary hurdles placed by the government.

The report does have one error near the end. It mentions that a bill was introduced in the last session to ease the ballot access requirement. The report states that the bill was not heard on the floor. This is incorrect. The bill was heard, but because the Senate versions and the House version differed, it was sent to a conference committee which never came to a compromise to send to the Governor.

As a treat, we have this report from 2006 with a similar report from OETA following the candidacy of J. M. Branum.

Letter To The Editor Of The Tulsa World Points Out Lack Of Ballot Access Reform

The latest letter to the editor, written by Zachary Knight, points out that the legislature once again failed to pass ballot access reform in the latest Legislative Session. This makes the 3rd ballot access bill to have died in a conference committee.

Another session of the Legislature has ended and Oklahoma is still number one in having the worst ballot access laws in the nation.

Oklahoma has the harshest laws regulating who can form a new political party or who can be on the presidential ballot. All other states have an easier process for both of those actions.

This year, the Legislature considered House Bill 2134, which would have greatly eased both of those processes, but once again was quietly killed it. The bill would have reduced the number of signatures needed to form a new political party by half. It later was changed to reducing the independent presidential petition requirement by half. The bill went to a conference committee where it languished and died. This is the same sort of committee that has quietly killed every ballot access bill in the last six years.

Oklahoma is in sore need of new political ideologies and new leadership outside the current parties. But we will get neither if we keep electing the same people who block efforts to allow those ideologies and leaders access to the political process. We need to reform our laws, but more important, we need to vote out of office anyone who votes to deny political freedom in Oklahoma.

2014 Session Ends With No Ballot Access Reform Passed

This past Friday, the State Legislature voted to end the 2014 Session a week early. This action resulted in a final resolution on the passage of HB2134 being out of reach. With its updated language being provided by the conference committee just two days before the vote end the session, the bill never had time to gain the proper votes for final passage.

This was precisely the result I feared would happen if the bill went to a conference committee. No ballot access bill has made it passed any conference committee in Oklahoma. Had the House just approved the Senate version of the bill, we would be in a far better place today. I had explained that to Rep Echols, but he felt that the possibility of the bill being challenged on Single Subject grounds to be too great.

For now, Oklahoma is right back where it has been for many many years, with the worst ballot access laws in the nation. If nothing changes in the next two years, we will likely be in exactly the same place we were two years ago, as the only state in the US with two candidates for President on the ballot.

We will be working closely with the Legislature and Rep Echols over the next year to get ballot access reform passed.

Conference Committee Submits Recommended Language For Final Version Of HB2134

The Conference Committee assigned to HB2134 has submitted its recommended version of HB2134, the ballot access bill. This bill had gone to a conference committee after the Senate greatly amended the bill and the House rejected those amendments. The main problem Rep. Echols and other House members had was the potential for a single subject rule based lawsuit over the Senate version.

In this new version of HB2134, the Conference Committee recommends that the party qualification petition language be stripped from the bill and leaves in tact most of the changes to the Presidential petitions for Independent and unqualified party candidates. However, the bill goes a further than the Senate version by further reducing the signature requirements to 1.5% rather than the Senate’s 2.5%. It also leaves in tact the current deadlines rather than the Senate’s reduced deadlines.

Overall, this would be a positive change. Instead of the little over 40,000 signatures needed under current law to get an Independent presidential candidate on the ballot, a little over 20,000 would be all that is needed. According to Ballot Access News, this removes Oklahoma from the worst presidential ballot access space it currently holds. With this change, it is far more likely that Oklahoma would have more than 2 candidates on the 2016 ballot even if no new parties gain recognition in the state.

As of now, the proposal does not appear to have the approval of the Senate side of the Conference Committee. That side is comprised of Senator Marlatt and a few others. With only one week left in the Legislative Session, it is imperative that we convince Senator Marlatt and the rest of the Conference Committee to act on this proposal.

Senate Appoints Conference Committee Members For HB2134

The Senate has now appointed its conference committee members for HB2134. On the House side, the conference committee will be made up of the House Rules Committee, consisting of Representatives Russ, Cooksey, Dorman, Floyd, Quinn, Watson and Wright. The Senate side will consist of Senators Marlatt, Griffin, Holt, Ford, Bass, McAffrey. All voted in favor of HB2134 so that there is little fear that they will turn down whatever compromise comes down the pipe.

While ballot access bills have had a poor track record for conference committees in previous sessions, we have a much higher hope for a positive resolution this year. Representative Echols is very much in favor of getting a good bill pushed through this session and he has high confidence that Senator Marlatt will work closely with him in finding a resolution to the differences in the different versions of the bill. While I have some ideas of what the final bill will look like, I am waiting for an official copy of the bill before making any statements in that regards. I will say that it will likely not be 100% what we want from the bill.

We urge you, if your Representative or Senator is a member of either of this conference committee, to please call them and ask them to find a compromise and pass it through. We will be reaching out to all members of this Conference Committee as well.

The House Rejects The Senates Amendments To HB2134 Moves Bill To Conference Committee

We are still trying to find more information, but it has now come to our attention that the State House has rejected the amendments to HB2134 added by the Senate. Doing so, the bill has now been sent to a conference committee for further review.

Unfortunately, ballot access reform bills have a pretty terrible history when it comes to conference committees. In 2009, HB1072 was passed by both the Senate and the House, but with differing language on the number of signatures. That bill went to a conference committee where it languished and died with no action. In 2011, HB1058 passed the Senate and House with differing signature language. While the house made its recommendations, the Senate never looked at the bill and it died.

We are looking for comments about why the Senate amendments were rejected as we felt that nothing in those amendments were worth letting the bill die. We will provide further updates as we learn more.

HB2134 Passes Senate With Major Amendments; Mostly Positive

Oklahoma is one more step closer to joining the first world when it comes to ballot access laws. The Oklahoma Senate has finally passed HB2134, the ballot access bill that reduced the number of signatures needed to form a new party from 5% of the last general election to 2.5%. However, the Senate couldn’t resist making major modifications to the bill. Fortunately, they are mostly positive. Yet, with these amendments in place, the bill must go back to the House for a confirmation vote.

The bill passed the Senate with a very narrow vote of 28-16. The Senators voting against the bill were 15 Republicans, Allen, Brecheen, Newberry, Standridge, Anderson, Brown, Schulz, Sykes, David, Shortey, and Treat , and one Democrat, Ballenger. We are sending emails to each of these Senators asking them why they voted against the bill.

On the amendment front, the bill keeps the 2.5% requirement the House passed and adds the following (PDF):

  • It adds a provision allowing political parties to voluntarily terminate their status as recognized parties. This may have been introduced in response to the Americans Elect Party as it had requested removal in many other states. Currently, the only way to lose recognized statues is to not field a candidate for the top ballot line, President or Governor, or to fail to reach the 10% vote test.
  • It adds a new deadline for recognized parties to certify the names of the candidates for President and Vice President. This deadline is 70 days before the general election. The current 90 day deadline for certified Electors is still in place. This gives some leeway for parties to hold Presidential primaries after holding elections for Electors.
  • It reduces the number of signatures for uncommitted and Independent Presidential candidate petitions from the current 3% of the last Presidential election to 2.5% of the same. It is not much of a change but does bring it inline with the party petition process.
  • It reduces the amount of time to gather signatures for Presidential petitions. The current deadline is July 15 and the amendment changes that to July 1. The names of Presidential Electors are due by August 15 rather than September 1.
  • It adds a process that disqualifies Presidential Electors if they fail to vote for the candidate they were pledged to vote for.

All in all, the deadline changes and the faithless elector addition are the only negatives about the amendment. The rest of the amendments are a great improvement over the current process. While this still places Oklahoma at the wrong end of the spectrum for ballot access, we are at least not so far at the bottom. As it currently stands, we would still be one of the toughest states to form a new party and get an Independent Presidential Candidate on the ballot.

There were quite a few questions posed about the bill. Senator Marlatt did a great job at describing why these changes are needed. He described how Oklahoma is one of the worst states in the nation for forming a new party and that we have not had more than two candidates for President for 3 elections. He also talked about how other states in our region have far more lax requirements for forming a new party. Senator Constance Johnson asked a number of questions about the faithless elector provision, but that was the bulk of the questioning.

With the amendments filed and passed, the bill must now go back to the House. We are going to be getting in touch with Rep. Echols to find out what he thinks of the amendments and what his plans are for the bill. If we can get this bill passed as is, it would be an incredible moment for us.

Tulsa World Joins Daily Oklahoman In Expressing Support For Ballot Access Reform

Support for ballot access reform is growing in Oklahoma. For many years, we have fought to reduce the burden posed to those who wish to form new parties in Oklahoma. As of today, Oklahoma’s top two newspapers have expressed their support for easing Oklahoma’s worst in the nation ballot access laws.

The Tulsa World has published an editorial in which they express support for HB2134, the bill that reduces the 5% signature burden to 2.5%.

Currently, parties seeking recognition have to obtain the signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the most recent general election. That currently works out to 66,744 petition signatures.

House Bill 2134 would cut that requirement in half.

Why do they support this measure? Because they recognize that the rising generation is moving further away from the current duopoly parties.

Political thinking is changing. The next generation of voters is not nearly as loyal to the traditional two-party system as their grandparents were. Independent voters are the fastest growing segment of the state voting pool. Many young voters want boutique parties molded to their specific political thinking rather than big-tent parties based on broad principles and old loyalties.

However, the Tulsa World does express some interest in keeping some burden in place. They feel that too low a barrier could lead to a glut of “marginal, schismatic groups”, but that should not stand in the way of reasonable accommodations.

We support lowering the standard for party recognition. We don’t want the number so low that it will produce a flowering of marginal, schismatic groups with no hope of ever electing a candidate, but reasonable accommodations of new modes of political thought could engage new voters and force the two big parties to make sure they are addressing issues of importance to all Oklahomans.

We are not clear exactly where the Tulsa World feels that line should be drawn. Even if HB2134 becomes law, Oklahoma would still have the highest burden in the nation for forming a new party or getting a candidate on the Presidential ballot. No other state has more than a 2% requirement. Additionally, in the decades prior to 1974, where the signature burden was 5,000 signatures, Oklahoma never saw more than 5 candidates for Governor or President. So even something easier than 2.5% would theoretically meet the Tulsa World requirements.

At this point, both the Tulsa World and the Daily Oklahoman have expressed support for these much needed reforms. In December 2012 after Oklahoma’s third presidential race in a row with only two options, an editorial was published supporting ballot access reform.

Colorado’s ballot access law may be too lax, but Oklahoma’s law is at the other end of the spectrum, making it exceedingly difficult for third parties to put a candidate before voters. This year, just as in 2008 and 2004, Oklahomans had only two options for president, the Democrat or the Republican. Twelve years ago, Pat Buchanan managed to get on the ballot here as an independent.

During an appearance in Oklahoma City two years ago, consumer advocate Ralph Nader said our state’s ballot access rules are among the nation’s toughest. “A competitive democracy with multiple candidates, multiple ideas, multiple backgrounds and multiple agendas is going to bring more people out to vote and we’re going to have a better political process,” he said.

Donna Bebo, who ran as a Democrat for the 4th Congressional District seat, put it this way: “Candidates should not win simply because of who they keep off the ballot. They should win on their own merit.” She has a point.

In conservative Oklahoma, Republicans enjoy firm and growing control of the Legislature. They have nothing to fear from providing a voice to others, by lowering some of the significant hurdles now in place for third-party candidates trying to get on our ballot.

Now that Oklahoma’s two largest news organizations have put their editorial muscle behind our efforts, will the State Legislature follow through and actually pass HB2134? Right now, the ball is in the Senate’s court and unfortunately, they have made moves to stall the bill as much as possible. Not only did they wait until the last day it could be heard in committee to pass it to the floor, but they also had the title and enacting clause stricken, a move that ensures it is forced to a conference committee if both are not restored prior to a floor vote. If the bill does get sent to a conference committee it is highly likely that it will die there just as previous ballot access reform bills have done.

We are working hard to ensure that the title and enacting clause are restored prior to a Senate vote, but have not received responses to any of our efforts to reach out to Senator Marlatt.

Senate Rules Committee Passes HB2134 But With Title Stricken

It took a while, but the Senate Rules Committee has finally voted on HB2134. The bill passed on a vote of 16-1 with Senator Rob Johnson as the sole no vote.

In a brief series of questions, Senator Connie Johnson asked what the intent of the legislation was, to which Senator Marlatt responded that it was to make it easier to form a new political party. In a follow up question, Sen. Connie Johnson asked Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax which parties have tried to form.

In response to this question Ziriax stated that no parties had filed intent to form this year. This is not surprising as the petition requirement would be based on the 2012 Presidential election which forces a higher number of needed signatures.  He followed that by stating that in 2012 two parties filed intent to form. The first was the Americans Elect party which gathered enough valid signatures but did not field any candidates. The other was the Libertarian Party which did not gain enough signatures to form. Ziriax expressed that had HB2134 been law at that time, he believed they could have qualified with the signatures they did submit.

It is unclear why Senator Rob Johnson voted against the bill. Our best guess is that since he is the author of SB668, which kept the 5% requirement but removed the presidential elections from the calculation, he felt that his bill should be the one to become law. This is mere speculation as we have not received a response from him as of yet.

Unfortunately for us, the bill had both its title and enacting clause stricken before the vote. This move ensures that if the title and enacting clause is not restored before a Senate vote, the bill will be forced to go to a conference committee. This is unfortunate as the conference committee is where several previous bills had died. It is our hope that this will not be the case. We ask that you contact your Senator and asked them to not just vote for HB2134 but also ask them to support restoring its title and enacting clause.