“All elections shall be free and equal.” – Oklahoma Constitution, Section III-5
Those words are found in our state’s constitution. Yet, our state legislature is not living up to that standard.
In 1974, the Legislative branch of Oklahoma decided they did not want competition in the Gubernatorial or Presidential elections from any person that was not a Republican or Democrat. They decided that they did not want any other parties rising up in Oklahoma to throw them out.
So they did what any fearful legislative body would do. They changed the laws to suit their own ends. They did this in two ways: First they wrote themselves into law. Second they put up extreme barriers for any other party.
Let’s think about that first one. They wrote themselves into law. Prior to 1974, Oklahoma recognized any party that met the state’s guidelines on membership and election status. After 1974, Oklahoma recognized any party that met the new higher threshold of membership and election status and those parties that were on the ballot in 1974. (Section 26-1-107 of Oklahoma Statutes) So what parties were on the ballot in 1974? The Democratic and Republican Parties. You heard that right. Those two parties will always be on the ballot even if they do not meet the requirements that other parties are subject.
Now for the second issue, the barriers on other parties. Prior to 1974, Oklahoma only required 5,000 signatures to organize a new party. From 1924 to 1974 the most parties on any one ballot was four. In 1974 the legislature changed that requirement to 5% of the total votes cast in the last General Election (either Gubernatorial or Presidential)(Section 26-1-108 of Oklahoma Statutes). How many is that? For a Political party to be organized for the previous Gubernatorial election it would have been 73,000 and for the coming Presidential election it is 51,732. That is a really high jump from 5,000. In order to retain party status in Oklahoma, a political party (other than the Democratic and Republican parties) would have to have a minimum of 10% of the vote in the last General Election.(Section 26-1-109 of Oklahoma Statutes) This is up from the 1% required prior to 1974.
So were the members of the 1974 legislative branch afraid that they would not be able to get 5,000 people to support their respective parties? Were they afraid that they would fail to get 1% of the vote in a future election? Or were they just afraid that you the people would exercise your rights to elect those who truly represent your ideals and values?
In the 2010 legislative session, a bill was introduced that would have reverted our ballot access laws to their prior 1974 status. This bill had passed the House and the Senate, only after being amended from 5,000 signatures to 3% and 5% of the last Gubernatorial election, but due to language differences, they had to be reconciled. A committee was formed to reconcile these differences in February and they just sat on it. This committee of a handful of legislative members decided that giving people a voice and a choice in our elections was not important enough to deal with. My State Representative, and opponent in the 2010 election, Scott Martin was Vice Chair of the committee responsible for killing the bill.
Seems nothing has changed since then.
In the current 2011 Legislative Session, a new bill was introduced, HB 1058. This bill was once again introduced with language that would have returned the signature requirement to the 5,000 signature level. Unfortunately, this one did not make it out of the House Committee without amending it to 22,500 signatures. Not sure where they came up with that number. This bill then passed in the House with a vote of 69 to 17 with 15 members absent. So it went to the Senate. Here, everything once again fell apart.
When it went to the Senate it was immediately sent to the Senate Rules Committee. It sat there. Forever. Finally with one week left to review bills passed from the House to the Senate, the Rules Committee caved to pressure from the Oklahoma Republican Party and failed to even give it a hearing. My State Senator Anthony Sykes sits on this committee.
The Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, Matt Pinnell, is quoted as saying the follows in support of continuing this effective ban on third parties in Oklahoma with this:
“I think the Republican Party is doing very well. Voter registration numbers are up, and we’re winning elections from the courthouse all the way up to statewide. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The problem is, it is broken and has been for nearly 40 years. This guy does not care about the people of Oklahoma. This guy only cares about people registered as Republicans in Oklahoma. This past election a new political party would have needed over 73,000 signatures plus a buffer of at least a third of that to compensate for the inevitable onslaught of “invalid” signatures being thrown out. This next election a new party will need 51,732, plus that buffer of a third. So we are still looking at over 70,000 signatures. This is broken and it needs fixed.
So here I am sitting in a House District and Senate District with a Representative and a Senator who do not care about bringing much needed democratic reform to the people of Oklahoma. I am frankly sick of it.
This past election I ran against Scott Martin for the House seat and lost receiving 20% of the vote. I unfortunately made the mistake of supporting Senator Sykes in his primary election. That won’t happen again in 3 years. I have not made any final decision to run again in 2012, but I do know that I am going to step up my contribution to educating the people of Oklahoma on the need for Ballot Access Reform and assisting any political party I can to get the much needed signatures for party recognition for the coming 2012 presidential election.
I also sent a letter to the editor of the Newcastle Pacer and to the Daily Oklahoman. Because the Daily Oklahoman has a history of blocking access to articles after time, I will post the entirety of it below:
Regarding “Ballot access bill divides Republicans” (news story, April 14): Last year I ran as an independent candidate for Oklahoma House District 46 under the banner of ballot access reform. Twenty percent of the voters in this district agreed with my position and demanded change. In October 2010, the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce held a Q&A with Sen. Anthony Sykes and Rep. Scott Martin. I took the opportunity to bring the discussion to ballot access reform. In response to my concerns with the overly restrictive requirements to form a new party, Sykes blamed the current mess on the Democratic Party in 1974. His exact words were, “There were no Republicans in power in 1974.”
Today, the Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and they refuse to allow ballot access reform to pass. They amended the original bill to increase the signature requirement in the House and killed it completely in the Senate. Sykes sits on the Senate Rules committee that refused to hear it this year. Martin was vice chairman of the committee that killed it last year. The Republican Party, Sykes and Martin are hypocrites and dishonest.
So here is to hoping that 2012 will bring some much needed change whether in the Legislative Session or in the election.
For more information on Oklahoma Election Laws and Ballot Access Reform:
- Title 26 Elections of the Oklahoma State Statues (rtf file)
- Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform
- Ballot Access News