Candidate ballot access measure languishes in Senate Rules

The Oklahoma state Senate Rules Committee has not yet heard House Bill 1058, a measure intended to make less onerous Oklahoma’s ballot access rules for political candidates.

Although the bill prevailed easily in the state House, it has encountered Republican opposition in the upper chamber and is at this date languishing in the Rules Committee.

State Rep. Charles Key, an Oklahoma City Republican, is sponsor of H.B. 1058 and has led efforts to make ballot access strictures less challenging. His bill would cut in half the numbers of signatures needed to qualify new political parties or candidates for ballots.

Key’s bill calls for a 22,500 signature threshold, rather than the current mandate of 5% of the votes cast in the last statewide election.

After making it through the House Rules Committee in February, the proposal on March 17 passed 69-17 on “third reading.” It moved through the Senate process until late last month, when it went to the rules panel.

House co-sponsors represent a bipartisan range, and include Republican Reps. Jason Murphey of Guthrie, Marian Cooksey of Edmond and Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow, as well as Democratic Reps. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs and Eric Proctor of Tulsa.

Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform (OBAR) is helping Key to promote the measure. State Sen. Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City, a Republican, is the bill’s Senate advocate.

Across America, legislators in at least 15 states are working on legislation to curb what advocates of reform deem unnecessary restrictions on voter choice in candidate races. In some of these states, ballot access reforms have already made it into law.

A national group active on behalf of ballot access reform, known as Free & Equal Elections Foundation, said this week that House Bill 1615, the “Let the Troops Vote Act,” could complicate things for Key’s bill.

While the group backs easier voting provisions for military troops, Free & Equal’s Christina Tobin said in a sent release to CapitolBeatOK this week that H.B. 1615 would shift the deadline for ballot access petitioning from May 1 to March 1, as part of a federal directive to improve voting provisions for U.S. military personnel. The national group points out that petitioning guidelines that early have been struck down frequently in U.S. court.

H.B. 1615 would shift primary dates from July to June. When the bill moved through the Senate recently, there was discussion about eliminating runoff elections in Oklahoma, meaning that party nominees could be chosen with mere pluralities in multi-candidate primaries.