Over the last few years, Republicans in the State Legislature seemed to have been on a warpath to reduce the number of people registering to vote. The introduction of VoterID was a cornerstone of that ideal. So we never expected to see what we have here. This year, three bills have been introduced that would greatly increase the number of people eligible to register to vote.
The first bill, introduced by Senator Holt, will allow for early registration for potential voters 16 and 17 years of age. SB999 will allow anyone 16 or 17 years old, who will not turn 18 before the next election, to preregister to vote. Upon turning 18, the Election Board will automatically register these people as voters. This bill will likely result in many more young people registering to vote and increase the likelihood they will participate in future elections.
The next two bills, SB1042 by Senator Matthews and HB2277 by Representative Goodwin, would restore voting rights to all felons after they complete their sentences. While the two bills go about this change in different ways, they both will result in one of the largest legally disenfranchised groups of potential voters having that right restored to them.
All three of these bills are positive steps in making Oklahoma a much more voter friendly state and will result in not just more people being registered to vote, but also more people participating in elections.
Last year, Senator Holt introduced a number of great bills and a couple of bad bills attempting to reform Oklahoma’s election system. This year, he has introduced yet another bill that could have some mixed results for the state and new political parties.
This year, Senator Holt introduced SB1016. This bill makes some changes to the voter registration process to make it easier for the State and County Election Boards to verify the identifying information on the voter registration form. This could make it easier to verify and complete the voter registration process.
However, the bill also contains language that changes how voters identify which party they wish to join. Currently, all recognized political parties are listed on the forms and a voter simply checks the box for the party they wish to identify with. There is also a box with a blank line which voters can check and then write in the name of the party they wish to join. Under the current system, if a new party gains recognition, the forms will have to be reprinted to include that new party. The old forms are still valid as voters can write in the name of the new party, but the state is required by law to print new forms.
Under the language in SB1016, the check boxes will be removed and in their place will be a blank line on which voters write in their party preference. While this change would make it so that the state does not have to reprint the forms every time a new party is formed, it will also make it more difficult for new parties to gain new members. If voters have to write in the party they wish to join, new parties will have to manage massive registration campaigns that could distract from other duties.
This change could also have an unintended affect on the duopoly Republican and Democratic parties as well. If voters have to write in their party of choice, more registering voters may end up just leaving the line blank. This will result in those voters being registered as independents. This could mean an even greater increase in the number of voters registered as independents in the state.
While saving the state money on printing costs is a noble goal, we wonder if doing so at the expense of new parties is worth it.