Election Board’s Paul Ziriax grapples with “unusual situation” in third party ballot fight

Oklahoma state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax faces “a very unusual situation” due to conflicts between state and national officials with the “Americans Elect” party.

Just five months after gaining a ballot line in Oklahoma – widely regarded as the most difficult American state for third parties seeking to challenge the duopoly of the two major parties — national leaders of American Elect say they are spiking the results of their own petitioning efforts. 

State party leaders, however, took steps legally required to slate seven members of the Electoral College, just in case their choice for president gets a plurality of Oklahoma’s votes in November.   

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, Ziriax detailed his “unusual situation,” saying “We have received conflicting instructions from the national organization for the Americans Elect party, and the state organization for the Americans Elect party, about how to proceed with the November ballot. Because it’s such an unusual situation, we’re seeking advice from our counsel at the office of the Attorney General.”

While reluctant to elaborate in case there is litigation, he gave some context, saying, “There’s not currently litigation. There’s always the potential for that. We would hope not, but that’s why we’re seeking legal advice from the Attorney General, just to know how to proceed under Oklahoma law, given that there is conflicting information. 

“Americans Elect sought recognized party status under Oklahoma law back prior to the deadline of March 1. On March 1, they submitted around 90,000 signatures. The state Election Board had to review those signatures along with the help of county election boards. We determined that 68,000-plus were valid. The requisite number was slightly more than 51,000 to become a recognized political party.”

He concluded, “As of the end of the month, in July, there were eight members who were registered in, as Americans Elect in Oklahoma.”

Assistant Attorney General Neal Leader told CapitolBeatOK that the office will give its legal counsel to the Election Board before the end of this week. 

The legal question is whether the national party’s wishes to disband should prevail, or if the state organization’s efforts are adequate to hold the ballot line awarded to Americans Elect in the spring. 

On August 7, in a letter to Ziriax, the state Americans Elect party named seven electors. The state party designated its presidential and vice-presidential  ticket as former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and running mate James P. Gray. They are already the national nominees of the Libertarian Party, which does not have a ballot line in Oklahoma. 

The state Americans Elect party named the electors at a state convention held on July 21. 

On August 6, the Americans Elect national office sent to Ziriax’s office, via express mail, a letter saying the national party’s board had terminated its status “as a qualified political party in all states in which it has so qualified.” Byrd’s letter conveyed “unanimous written consent” of the national group’s directors to withdraw the party’s “ballot line in all states in which Americans Elect has obtained a ballot access line.” That action was taken July 23 and 24. 

Americans Elect gained an Oklahoma ballot line in March, after a successful signature-gathering effort led. David Boren was that drive’s most prominent booster. Boren is arguably the most successful Oklahoma Democratic politician of the modern political era. He is the only man in state history to serve in three leading public posts: governor, U.S. Senator and (his current job) president of the University of Oklahoma. 

Last week, Boren told CapitolBeatOK, “Since Americans Elect did not field a ticket in the presidential election, I will not be involved in any of their state and local efforts.” Through a spokesman, he has declined further comment.

Reporting for the August print edition of Ballot Access News, analyst Richard Winger summarized the curious path of the national Americans Elect party in June and July, when the group decided not to submit petitions already gathered in three states, and “not to run any candidate” for lesser offices in any of the 30 states where the party became ballot-qualified this spring. 

Ziriax and the Oklahoma state election board must begin preparation of state ballots in early September, facing a September 21 deadline for completion and circulation of absentee ballots. The deadline must be met to assure that overseas members of the U.S. military have time to vote in the November election.