Senator Holt introduces election reform package for consideration during 2015 session
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Published: 22-Jan-2015

Sen. David Holt, R Oklahoma City, has introduced a comprehensive election reform package of nine bills and one joint resolution. He said, in a press release, that all of the measures are intended to increase Oklahoma’s rapidly declining voter turnout. The concepts proposed by Holt include transitioning Oklahoma to mail elections and adoption of a “top two” electoral system.

In 1992, over 70 percent of eligible Oklahoman's participated in the presidential election. However, by 2012, that percentage had plunged to only 52 percent, third-worst in the nation. In 2014, less than 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the statewide general election. A third of eligible Oklahomans are not even registered.  There were fewer registered voters in 2014 than there were in 1988, even though the state’s population has grown 22 percent.

“Oklahoman's are patriotic, but our voting record is undermining that reputation. Our plunging levels of civic participation are reaching crisis levels,” Holt said.  “This is an important conversation our state needs to have. This matters because it influences everything else. Oklahomans hand over billions of dollars to government, and they need to stand up and be a part of this process or they likely won’t care for the results.  Our republic cannot survive if these trends continue. I believe this package of bills, individually and collectively, would increase Oklahoma’s turnout.”

The following are summaries of each piece of legislation and comments, provided to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations by Senator Holt:
 
Senate Bill  310
 
Moves Oklahoma to a mail election in 2020 and beyond
All registered voters would receive ballot by mail and return it by mail or in person
Oklahoma would be the fourth state to adopt this growing trend
Reduces cost of machines and poll workers
Addresses growing concerns over how to staff precincts in the future
 
“This is the concept most likely to dramatically improve Oklahoma’s voter turnout. The states with mail elections are enjoying turnout rates far higher than the national average. Receiving a ballot by mail reminds the voter to vote. It also saves time for the voter by not requiring them to stand in line at the polls.”
 
Senate Bill 311
 
Creates a “top two” electoral system in Oklahoma
All candidates, including partisan labels, appear on ballot in August
If no candidate receives over 50 percent, top two advance to November
All voters are invited to both elections to choose their favorite
Brings clarity to process – election day is for everyone, regardless of party or geography
Brings growing independent voter base into the process
Saves money by streamlining ballots and eliminating one of the three elections
 
“If you asked a ninth-grader how American democracy works, they would respond that all candidates appear on the ballot and all voters are asked to select their favorite. This is, of course, not how our process currently works, but it should. And it would under a ‘top two’ system proposed by this bill.   Like mail elections, ‘top two’ is a growing trend. Its clarity has the potential to increase turnout and its inclusiveness helps to reach results that more credibly reflect the views of the electorate.”
 
Senate Bill 312
 
Consolidates all local candidate elections to a cycle in the spring or a cycle in the fall
 
“This increases turnout by not requiring voters to return to the polls time and time again. For example, in Oklahoma City this year, school board elections will be held in February and city council elections will be held in March. There is no rational reason for that to occur.”
 
Senate Bill 313
 
Allows eligible citizens to securely register to vote online
 
“Voter turnout percentages, already disappointing, actually overstate turnout in that they do not account for eligible voters who have not even registered.  This group of unregistered citizens is now a third of the state. Rising generations of voters are simply not used to a world where simple tasks such as this cannot be accomplished online.”
 
Senate Bill 314
 
Allows unregistered citizens who have missed the 25-day deadline for registration to register and vote if they appear in-person to the county election board during early voting
 
“It is an irony inherent in the current process that an unregistered person is usually reminded that they have failed to register by election activity that occurs well after they have missed the deadline to register. This bill essentially extends that deadline to the Saturday before the election by giving those voters an opportunity to register at a place that is equipped for it.”
 
Senate Bill 315
 
Allows absentee voters to request to be placed permanently on the absentee voter list, rather than the current practice of requiring an application each year
 
“This is intended to increase turnout by eliminating an unnecessary procedure. This concept essentially adopts mail elections one voter at a time, and would not be necessary if mail elections were adopted as Oklahoma’s official system.”
 
Senate Bill 316
 
Modernizes various aspects of absentee voting
Absentee voters could mail a copy of their ID rather than have their ballot notarized
Absentee voters may drop off ballot in person and show ID
Bureaucratic “in-person absentee” terminology is replaced by “early voting”
System of separate forms for incapacitated absentee voters and no-excuses absentee voters is streamlined, though retaining the services offered to incapacitated voters
 
“Current absentee voting procedures are unnecessarily confusing and archaic. As one example of ways we can modernize these processes, many people have ready access to copiers but not a notary public. This bill acknowledges that.”
 
Senate Bill 317
 
Expands and streamlines early voting
Adds Wednesdays and Saturday afternoons to early voting
Makes the hours of operation the same each day
Extends the same early voting opportunities to all elections for elective office
 
“One concept underlining this entire turnout effort is the idea that the procedures have to be intuitively understood by the public.  Currently, Saturday voting is available for some elections but not for others, and at different times than the other days. Having variable early voting opportunities for different elections is unnecessarily confusing.”
 
Senate Bill 318
 
Lowers the signatures required to get parties and presidential candidates on the ballot
 
“Though I have no interest in supporting other parties, I believe in free will and am not scared of other candidates reaching the ballot.   Oklahoma famously has perhaps the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation.   

This bill could incrementally increase turnout by bringing in voters who feel unrepresented by the existing options.”
 
Senate Joint Resolution 13
 
Gives the people of Oklahoma the opportunity to lower the signatures required to place issues on the ballot for consideration by the voters
 
“Interest in civic affairs is hindered by the fact that the people have been essentially shut out of Oklahoma’s petition and referendum process. I believe in free will and am not scared of seeing more petitions and referendums on the ballot. This could also increase turnout by involving Oklahomans more in the civic process and offering important questions for their consideration that have maybe been stopped by special interests.”

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