On Thursday, May 5, 2015, Governor Fallin signed SB896 into law. This law lowers the vote test needed for parties to retain recognition in Oklahoma. The previous requirement was 10% of the vote for President or Governor. Now, parties only need to gain 2.5% of the vote.
This year, the lower retention requirement will only really apply to the Libertarian Party, which successfully petitioned to gain recognition. However, if the Libertarian Party is successful in retaining its recognition, it will inspire other parties to attempt the petition.
With a lower petition requirement and a lower retention requirement, Oklahoma can see new parties arise and stay in place long enough to gain significant traction.
Yet, the work is not done yet. We still have a number of reforms we are fighting for, including lowering the petition requirement for independent presidential candidates, getting rid of straight party voting, and getting a write-in option in Oklahoma. We also feel that the petition and retention requirement for new parties is still too high.
SB896 is on its way to the governor’s desk. If it is signed into law, and should be within the week, it will reduce the percentage of the vote a party needs to get in the Presidential and Governor races to stay recognized. Currently, parties need to win 10% of the vote to maintain recognition. SB896 lowers that to 2.5%.
Oklahoma’s current 10% requirement is one of the strictest in the nation. While the reduction to 2.5% is a sizable decrease, it is still higher than the average of the surrounding states. OBAR supports a further decrease to 1% and making party status valid for a total of 4 years instead of the current 2. That means a party need only meet the vote test every other election rather than every election. OBAR also supports including more statewide elections into the mix including but not limited to US Senate and statewide elected executive positions such as Lt Governor and State Superintendent.
On Wednesday February 17, the Senate Rules Committee heard three election reform bills and passed them all unanimously. The two really important bills were SB896, the bill that lowers the party retention test from the current 10% of the vote to 2.5%, and SB1108, which removes the Straight Ticket device from the November ballots.
Both were heard and passed the committee. They now move to the full Senate, where they will hopefully be heard soon.
Also heard was SB1016 which removes party labels from voter registration forms. This bill also passed and moves on.
We will have more about all these bills going forward.
While a bill was passed this last year lowering the number of signatures needed to form a new party from 5% of the last vote to 3% of the last vote for Governor, that does little for new political parties and the voters that support them if the 10% vote test to retain party recognition stays in place. To tackle this issue, Senator Loveless has introduced SB896 which would lower the vote test from 10% to 2.5%.
That is a significant drop and is far more reasonable, even though it is not the 1% we support as part of our Ballot Access Brief. Still, this is a fairly difficult task for a new party. In 2012, the Libertarian party failed to meet Arkansas’ vote test of 3% after Gary Johnson polled 1.5% of the vote. In 2014, the Libertarian Party of Arkansas also failed to reach that test. In comparison, all other states surrounding Oklahoma have much easier vote tests and the Libertarian party was able to retain party recognition in each of them.
While any movement in a positive direction is good, and such a sizable reduction, is welcome, we would love to see more. Primarily, we recommend reducing the vote test to 1% of the vote. We also recommend that party recognition should be for 4 years rather than the current 2 years. By switching to a 4 year period of retention, new parties will have more time to form an election strategy to meet the requirement without the looming threat of having to petition again.
Still, we hope that the Senate and the House will pass this bill without amending it to be higher than the 2.5% of the the vote the bill currently has. If it must be amended, it should be amended to lower that vote test.
For now, we recommend that you contact your state Senator and Representative and demand that SB896 passes. This bill is sorely needed in Oklahoma if last year’s reduction of petitions is to have any meaning.