While we are still waiting on word of the true reform bill we are looking for, the Senate is busy introducing other bits of reform and some “reform”. Why the quotes? Well, some things that are called reform are far from it.
There are three bills introduced so far that will change elections in some fashion. Two of them are pretty good changes and the third is a move that would result in fewer people running for office. Fewer people engaged in the election process is never a good thing.
The first bill, SB 80, allows for county election boards to request an earlier starting time to begin counting absentee ballots. This means that if a county receives a large number of absentee ballots, it can request an earlier time before the election to begin counting them. This would likely result in a reduced burden in the week following the election and hopefully result in fewer miscounts.
The second bill, SB 99, changes how County Commissioner races are handled. Under this legislation, County Commissioners will no longer file or run under party labels. These non-partisan elections will hopefully result in less partisan rhetoric during elections and a greater emphasis on the actual candidates rather than their political leanings.
Under this new system, the way elections will be handled is as follows. If only one person files, that person automatically wins the seat, as currently happens in other races. If two people file, those two candidates go to a November election. If three or more people file, a non-partisan primary election is held. If the Primary election results in a single candidate winning 50% or more of the vote, that person wins the election. If no candidate wins 50% or more, then the top two candidates go on to the November election.
The final bill is a bit of a doozy and is the one that earns the quotes on reform. SB 76 doubles
to triples (an original version of the bill, incorrectly listed the current fees thus making some seem to have tripled.) the fees required to file for various races for the state and US. The increases for the various races are as follows:
- Governor goes from
$1000$1500 to $3000
- US Senate goes from
$750$1000 to $2000
- US Representative goes from
$500$750 to $1500
- Lieutenant Governor, Corporation Commission, Attorney General, State Auditor and Inspector, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Treasurer, Commissioner of Insurance and Commissioner of Labor are all at $1000
- All other state elections, such as State House and Senate, go from $200 to $400
I am seriously straining to find a real need for these changes. It is not as if Oklahoma suffers from a glut of candidates filing each year. If one is too look over the last decade or so of races, you will find that few races in November have more than three candidates on the ballot. If you look at Primary elections, the most I was able to find on a single primary race was eight. However, even in those races, it was often fairly easy for voters to narrow their choices.
Whatever the supposed reason for this bill, and we will be contacting Senator Fields about his reasoning, the most likely result will be fewer people running for office. In a state that teeters on fewer than 50% of races making it past the primaries to the November elections, that would be a very bad thing. It could further stagnate citizen participation in the election process. The key reason is that these increased fees will mean that candidates without established financial backers will be unable to pay the filing fees.
For an example of this, I ran for State House in 2010. The filing fee was $200 and I spent an additional $100 of my own money during the campaign. Had the filing fee been the $400 proposed, I would not have been able to afford the filing fee and would not have been able to run. While some incumbents might like that idea, it will result in a further decay of public trust in government.
We at Oklahomans For Ballot Access Reform encourage all to contact your State Senators and Representatives and ask them to oppose this bill. This is not the type of reform the State of Oklahoma needs. We need reform that will result in a more inclusive and better represented government and election process.