2014 Was A Good Year For Ballot Access Reform; 2015 Will Be Better

Last year, we posted our expectations for the 2014 with hope that great strides would be made for Ballot Access Reform and for Independents. Unfortunately, not all we had hoped to come to pass did, but we did see some major improvements.

First off, the biggest news to come of the year was the fact that 2014 was the first time in Reform history that the Senate and the House agreed on language for party ballot access. HB2134 made it through the house with a 2.5% petitioning requirement. That language was then taken up by the Senate, which actually kept it. Unfortunately, they made other changes that forced the bill to go to a Conference Committee, which promptly sat on it and it died.

Along with that, we gained a great ally in this fight. HB2134 was championed through the Legislature by Representative Jon Echols. He was instrumental in maintaining the 2.5% language throughout the whole process. He is really gungho about ballot access reform and is looking to introduce bills that reform party access as well as presidential petitions and initiative petitions. He is really excited about this and we are going to be working hard on this issue with him.

In other news, SB76, the bill that would have doubled candidate filing fees, was killed by the House. They thankfully recognized that it was a harmful bill and chose to let it die. Hopefully we will not see a repeat of that bill in 2015.

In unfortunate news, Oklahoma adopted the Ethics Commission’s proposed rules for campaign finance reform. To make it worse, the Legislature passed a bill that turned over all campaign finance rule making over to the Commission. This means that 2016 will be a difficult year for Independent candidates to raise as much money as their Republican and Democratic party competition. We would like to see this addressed in the coming session.

In more positive news, HB2134’s original author, Representative Jeff Hickman, was elected to the office of House Speaker. In addition to that, Rep Hickman created a new Ethics and Elections Committee that will be reviewing all bills in those regards. These events will most likely result in a friendlier climate for ballot access reform in 2015.

This year also saw more news organizations joining the fight for ballot access reform. The Tulsa World and News 9 posting positive news and editorials indicating the need for ballot access reform for both political parties and initiative petitions.

In addition to those news organizations, we also have a new ally in the Oklahoma Policy Institute. They have done a lot of work to highlight various policy problems in the state and they have jumped in with both feet in the fight to reform Oklahoma’s election laws including ballot access reform.

Finally, we did not see as many Independent Candidates running for office in the 2014 elections as we had hoped. We also saw record low voter turnout in this past election as well. However, there is good news to come from this. This low voter turn out means that party and initiative petitioners will need some of the lowest number of signatures in many decades.

With all this news, we are extremely positive about 2015. We feel confident that with our new allies in the media, policy watchdogs and in the Legislature this could be the year that the petitioning requirement for political parties will finally be reduced. While we may not get the 5,000 signatures we want and deserve, we will likely reduce it to something actually manageable.

So we wish you all a happy 2015 and we look forward to this being a great year for all supporters of free and equal elections.

Looking Back At 2013 With Hope For A More Independent 2014

OK Voter Choice

2013 was a very good year. Not the year we would have hoped for, but pretty good nonetheless. What made this year so good? Well, lots of things.

For starters, this was the first year of full coverage of Ballot Access Reform issues and other election issues. Our website was pretty limited in previous years, dedicated almost entirely to advocacy for specific bills. While that was certainly noble and definitely needed, there are so many secondary issues and news that we need to cover as well. Additionally, this site went silent for the entirety of the 2011 and 2012 and we missed some very important updates during that time. So we are extremely happy with the ability to bring you up to date news on legislation, political opinion polls, statements by political leaders, and now even candidates for office. We look forward to doing even more in 2014 as we enter an election year.

This past year saw a number of election related bills filed and voted on. We watched what we considered some of the more important ones. Chief among these bills were HB2134 and SB668 which reduced the number of signatures needed to form a new party in Oklahoma. While HB2134 failed to move passed the Rules Committee, SB668 passed the Senate and passed the House Rules Committee. Only Speaker TW Shannon stood in the way of a House vote on either bill. Both bills still have a chance to be heard by the House in 2014. If SB668 gets a House vote with no amendments, it could become law. While it will not provide any real relief to alternative parties, it would be a positive step in the right direction. We would prefer if HB2134 would advance and that the Senate accept its language. After all, the evidence is in favor of real reform.

Another bill we watched with much apprehension was SB76 which doubled the filing fees to run for office. This bill was purely Republican driven and supported. It made it all the way through a Senate vote and a House sub committee vote. Thankfully it never reached a House vote. However, it could still come up for a vote this year and if passed, it could really harm the potential for real elections in 2016. We hope that the House continues to ignore this legislation in 2014.

Another issue we hope gets addressed properly in 2014 is that of campaign finance reform. The Oklahoma Ethics Commission has announced proposed changes to this aspect of election law. While we support stripping away the language that penalizes married couples over single individuals, we have a hard time accepting Slater’s proposal to change the contribution limits. His proposal would create severely lopsided elections and specifically harm Independent candidates. This proposal combined with SB76 would pretty much guarantee an severe loss of real challenges in elections.

But 2013 wasn’t just about legislation and the nitty gritty of law. It was also about public opinion. This year saw a number of polls and other evidence that shows that the power of the two duopoly parties are waning. A Record number of people (60% of those polled) believe that we need a major third party. This dissatisfaction with the duopoly parties also reflects on people’s opinion of the current make up of Congress; people think they are doing a terrible job. Additionally, people feel that the Founding Fathers would be disappointed in the way the nation is today. We also saw record low voter turnout in the 2012 Presidential elections, placing Oklahoma as 49th in the nation. All these opinions seem to have resulted in more people in Oklahoma registering as Independent than either of the duopoly parties. We hope to see this trend continue in 2014. We would love to see Independent registration double.

Since 2014 is an election year, we have a number of things to look forward to. Earlier this year we lamented the fact that no one had risen up to challenge Mary Fallin for the office of Governor of Oklahoma. While we did not think that situation would remain, it was something that worried us. Luckily, we were not worried for long. We now know of three candidates and we have heard rumors of others as well. What makes these other candidates worth watching is their history with Ballot Access Reform. Mary Fallin has never taken a stated position on Ballot Access Reform. It was not in her policy statements, she never expressed support or opposition. But the other candidates for her seat have positive ballot access reform history.

The first to announce his intent to run for office is RJ Harris. He will be running as a Democrat and has already placed Ballot Access Reform as part of his mission. He knows the need for it as he has been an Independent and Libertarian for many years.

Next up is Representative Joe Dorman. Dorman will also be seeking the Democratic nomination. While he has not stated any specific support for Ballot Access Reform, he has voted for every Ballot Access Reform bill that came up for a vote in the House.

Then we have former Senator Randy Brogdon, seeking to challenge Fallin as the Republican nominee. While we missed the evidence of his support at first, we quickly found it. Senator Brogdon authored and sponsored legislation that would have greatly eased the burdens of alternative parties as they sought ballot access. This places him as a top contender in that regard.

With three of the current four candidates for governor supporting Ballot Access Reform in some way, we hope to make reform a major part of the campaign for governor in 2014.

Finally, we hope that 2014 will be the year that Independent candidates take a stand and run for office. In previous election years, Independent candidates were a rarity on the ballot. Most years, you could count the number of Independent candidates for state office on a single hand. With less than 40% of Legislative seats making it to a November election, there is plenty of room for Independents to make their voices heard. We went on record agreeing with Representative Mullin in stating that the 2014 elections is where our power lies. If we truly want to see Ballot Access Reform pass, we need to make it an issue at the ballot box. If those in power won’t allow us to run under the party label of our choosing, we need to stand and proudly declare our Independence and run as Independent candidates for office. There should never be an unchallenged seat for any office. As long as there  are, those in power will remain comfortable denying us our rights to freely assemble.

Most of all, we hope that 2014 is the year that Oklahoma chooses to stand firm by its constitution and lives by the creed that “All Elections Shall Be Free And Equal.”

Happy New Year everyone.