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.

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.

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.