Advocates of initiative measures for process reform and medical marijuana may fall short

OKLAHOMA CITY – Advocates for two initiatives – one seeking to change state law to reduce the number of valid signatures needed for ballot status, the other touching on legalization of medical marijuana – appear to have fallen short in their signature-gathering efforts, although the final word on one of the measures is pending. 
On Friday (August 19), Oklahoma Secretary of State Chris Benge announced his office has completed the counting of signatures for State Question (S.Q.) 787, Initiative Petition 411. The measure would amend Oklahoma Statutes Title 34, which deals with the Oklahoma initiative and referendum process.
The secretary of state’s office said, in a press release, it had counted a total of 59,981 signatures for the proposed state question. However, a total of 65,987 valid signatures are needed for an initiative amending Oklahoma statute to be placed on an election ballot. That equates to 8 percent of the 824,831 ballots cast in the 2014 gubernatorial election.
As required by law, Benge’s office will send a report on its findings to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Supreme Court determines whether the number of signatures counted is sufficient for the proposal to be placed on an election ballot.
The secretary of state’s office also is counting signatures gathered for S.Q. 788, which deals with legalizing medical marijuana. The count, which began Aug. 18, is expected to be completed this week. 
Former state Rep. Joe Dorman, who has assisted the Oklahomans for Health initiative supporting legalization of medical marijuana, said this weekend the group (which backed the process initiative, as well) “maintained a count for both petitions going into the final weekend of collections. Their tracking numbers show the second petition for medical marijuana was gathering about 10 per more signatures than the other proposal which was just counted. This could place the potential numbers at the threshold for achieving ballot status.”
Even if successful, the petitioners may be out of luck for the hoped-for November general election date. As is the case in every state with the initiative process, signatures must be turned in early enough to allow time for possible signature challenges and other “Vetting” procedures. Post-circulation but pre-election challenges of initiative petitions have become common in the Sooner State. 
In a series of Facebook exchanges this weekend, Bryan Dean (a former reporter who now works as public information officer at the Oklahoma state Election Board) explained the procedural and time challenges that faced both measures.
Concerning the medical marijuana initiative, “There was never a chance the signatures could have been counted fast enough for it to make the deadline. The petitions were turned in 15 days before the election board has to start printing ballots. It just wasn’t enough time.”
He noted, “You have a set number of days to collect signatures once you start circulating. If they started circulating a month earlier, the deadline would have been a month earlier, and they might have made the deadline to get on the ballot.”
The proofing and printing deadline for the statewide general election is Friday, August 26 –  when final versions of ballots must be completed to assure that military and overseas voters get their ballots 45 days before the general election date. This is a requirement under federal law. 
To be clear, if the medical marijuana proposal squeezes in with just enough signatures (as Dorman indicated was possible due to a higher number of signatures), it could wind up on a future ballot.
Dean wrote, “Questions can pass through the process and wait up to two years for the next statewide election.”
NOTE: Editor Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.