Letter To The Editor Laments The Death of HB2134, Ballot Access Reform

Over the weekend, Anthony Papillion of Miami had a letter published in the Tulsa World in which he laments the death of HB2134. Despite passing out of the House Rules Committee with no issues, HB2134 was never heard by the House Calendar Committee and thus never voted on by the House.

The Oklahoma Legislature had another opportunity this year to give more Oklahoma voters a voice at the polls. House Bill 2134 would have reduced the number of signatures required to get a new party listed on the ballot from its current high count of 5 percent of active voters to the pre-1974 level of 5,000.

Unfortunately, HB 2134 won’t even be heard this year by the Legislature because lawmakers have much more important bills to hear. Those bills include setting a new price for a one-day fishing license, allowing counties to provide incentives for wellness programs, and declaring part of Oklahoma 81 as a historic bike trail. Yes, all those “important” bills were more important than making sure as many voters as possible had the chance to participate in the electoral process.

Oklahoma voters have shown that they want more choice in their ballot. We’ve shown that we are not happy with the current two-party status quo. Why does the Legislature find it so hard to get that message? Perhaps lawmakers are afraid of giving us too much power so that we have a chance to get rid of them when we go to the polls?

As always, writing letters to the editors of the various newspapers in Oklahoma is one of the easiest ways to spread the word about the need for ballot access reform. Keep them coming.

House Doesn’t Hear Ballot Access Reform Bill; HB2134 Dead For The Year

Today is the last day for the State House to hear its own bills and HB2134 is not on the agenda. That means that HB2134 is dead for the year. It could come back again next year, but it will be competing with a whole new lot of bills that will be introduced for that session, reducing the chance that it will be heard.

Earlier this week, it became apparent that the reason HB2134 had not been and would not be heard was because Speaker Shannon did not want it heard. In an email, HB2134 author Representative Hickman wrote:

I made another pitch to one of the floor leaders to try to get HB2134 added to the agenda to be considered by the Calendar Committee at their last meeting at 1130a today. He likes the bill and talked to Speaker Shannon about adding it but the Speaker said no. Sorry we weren’t able to get it heard. I will see what I can do to help with SB668 since it will be coming to the House next week. Thanks again for your interest.

This combined with a recent news report from NewsOK that any bill that doesn’t strictly adhere to the Republican agenda is having trouble being heard doesn’t breed much confidence in HB2134 being heard next year.

On Tuesday March 12, 2013, a good number of people called the offices of Speaker Shannon and Calendar Chair Peterson to ask them to support HB2134 and pass it to the Floor for a vote. I appreciate all the help from those who called and those who wrote letters. Your efforts did not go unnoticed, even if those efforts went unheeded.

On Wednesday March 13, 2013, I had the pleasure of joining Oklahoma Libertarian Richard Prawdzienski in a meeting with Shannon aid Rick about the status of HB2134. While Rick was sympathetic to the plight of new parties, having worked on several petitioning drives in the past, he was plain in stating that ballot access reform was just not a priority for Speaker Shannon. With all the evidence showing just how important this legislation is, you have to really wonder what exactly are his priorities.

At this point, the only hope for reform this year is SB668. SB668 as it is currently written only removes the Presidential elections from the 5% signature calculation. Under this language, new parties will not have any real relief. As you look back over the last three Presidential elections, in which new parties could form based on the Governor election calculation, alternative parties had not been able to gain access to the Presidential ticket despite their best efforts. This shows that even this proposed hurdle is still too high and will continue to deny Oklahoma voters real choice in the elections.

However, there are still advantages to letting it pass as written. Based on recent reform efforts, the Senate is unwilling to pass anything lower than 5% of the last Governor election. While passing the bill with that language won’t provide any real relief, it will change the psychology of the Legislature, making future reform efforts easier. The introduction and passage of reform bills this year and in years prior show that the Legislature recognizes that reform is needed and wants to pass reform. Yet, due to some kind external or internal pressure, they can’t bring themselves to pass anything of substance. Once something like this passes and they realize that it is not the end of the world, future reform would be easier for them to handle.

With The Evidence In Favor, Why Won’t The House Hear Reform Bills?

For nearly four decades Oklahoma has had one of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the United States. In 1974, Oklahoma Democratic legislators passed a bill that changed the petitioning requirement to form a new party and gain access to the highest election ticket in the state. This new law increased the number of signatures a new party would need to gather in order to gain ballot access from a flat 5,000 signatures to 5% of the vote cast in the last general election. This new requirement set in motion a series of events that would lead us to today in which Oklahoma has been the only state to limit its voters to two choices for President in the last three elections.

Fortunately, evidence is mounting that this is a failed policy not just in practical reasons but for idealogical reasons as well. As such, it is time for the Oklahoma Legislature to pass legitimate reform now.

Recently, the Federal Election Commission released its official 2012 Presidential Election results. With this report, the facts show that arguments against reform have no merit. The two most common arguments against reform are that voters will be confused and that alternative candidates will create a “spoiler effect” between the duopoly candidates. But when you analyze the election results, you will find that the data shows no evidence that voters were confused. In every state and D.C., the vast majority of voters had no problem finding and voting for one of the two duopoly candidates. On the “spoiler effect” front, no state in the U.S. had margins close enough that a lack of choice on the ballot would have flipped the election. If you look specifically at any one alternative candidate, none of them had enough votes to flip the election in any state.

Other facts show just how limited Oklahoma is with its choice at the ballot. The next lowest number of candidates available in any state is double that of Oklahoma. The average number of candidates on any ballot is eight or four times more than what is available in Oklahoma. Continue reading

HB2134 Passes House Rules Committee Unopposed and Unamended

The House Rules Committee voted unanimously to pass HB2134 which would reduce the number of signatures required to form a new party to 5,000. While similar bills have been passed in the House in previous years, this is the first bill to make it out of the Rules Committee with the 5,000 signature language in tact. Previous bills had been amended to change the language to 3% of the last general election or a flat 22,500 signatures. So this is a great start for reform this year.

With SB668 in the Senate having language reflecting 5% of the last Gubernatorial election, we still have some rough times ahead. It is important that the House pass HB2134 unamended and that the Senate either amend SB668 to match the House bill or to drop SB668 and adopt HB2134 when it passes out of the House. Please contact your State Representative and Senator and ask them to support HB2134 and the 5,000 signature requirement is contains.

HB2134 Will Be Heard In Rules Committee Wednesday

On Wednesday, February 20th at 9am, the House Rules Committee will be voting on whether to advance HB2134. This is an important step in the process as this meeting, of only a small number of House members, has the potential to kill the bill for the year. It is important that you contact the House Rules Committee and ask that this bill be passed to the floor for a vote. It is also important to stress that this bill, which would change the signature requirement to form a new party to a flat 5,000, be unchanged. We will be listening in on the meeting and provide updates tomorrow.

Letter To The Editor Published In Tulsa World

Today, the Tulsa World published my Letter to the Editor. This letter was pretty much word for word my letter to NewsOK, but the World made several edits. Nothing that changed the meaning in any way, just the flow. It is great to see that the World finally picked it up. This letter has sparked a pretty great conversation in the comments that had yet to exist on the Tulsa World website.

I will express one aside here. The Tulsa World is a supporter of what are called “paywalls” in which non-subscribing readers are blocked from reading more than 10 or so articles a month. This means that it is likely that some of you may not be able to read the letter or the comments. This is one reason why I like to post the letter contents in full. Continue reading

Ballot Access Reform Introduced In Oklahoma

Once again, Ballot Access Reform bills have been introduced in the House and Senate. Unfortunately, we are already off to a rocky start. While bills have been introduced in both houses of the State Legislature, each bill carries its own conflicting language.

First up, we have SB668, introduced by Senator Rob Johnson. This bill became available first and includes language that really offers no reprieve to new political parties. It modifies the current requirement of 5% of the last general election, which includes both the Presidential and Gubernatorial, to 5% of the last Gubernatorial election.

This is better in only the fact that no political parties have met the current requirement following Presidential election years. All new parties that have formed since the 1974 change have only been able to form in years following Gubernatorial elections. However, only 3 such parties have formed since the 80s. Considering the most recent example, the Americans Elect Party, was only able to form with considerable outside financial backing, we would continue to see a lack of political options in years to come.

Fortunately, the House version, HB2134 introduced by Representative Jeffrey Hickman, includes language consistent with the requirements prior to 1974. Under HB2134, a new party would be able to form after gathering only 5,000 signatures. This is a much more reasonable and fair requirement than the current 5% requirement.

However, due to the conflicting nature of these two bills, it will be difficult for true reform to pass this year without a fight. In the last Legislative Session, similar bills were filed. While both passed their respective houses, although the House version did not pass without an amendment that raised the requirement to 25,000 signatures, because of the conflicting language, the bills went to a Conference Committee which sat on them till the close of the session. This killed the chances of reform in both 2011 and 2012.

Another unfortunate oversight by those filing these bills is the lack of other needed reforms. Particularly in the area of retaining status. Oklahoma’s current requirement for retaining status is to win 10% of the total votes in the General Election. If a party does not field a candidate or does not win the 10% mark, they are removed from party status and must re-qualify. A better solution would be to make party status good for 4 years rather than the current 2 and to lower the General Election vote requirement to 1-5%.

Finally, neither of these bills tackle the statute language that immunizes the Democratic and Republican parties from these requirements. Under current law, if the Democratic or Republican parties fail to win 10% of the general Election vote, they will still retain official party recognition.

While these bills are not perfect, it is imperative that we contact our House and Senate representatives and encourage them to vote for these reforms. It is also important that we emphasize to our Senators, and specifically the Senate Rules Committee to amend the legislation to reflect the 5,000 signature requirement. We should also emphasize to the House Rules Committee to preserve the current language.