Capitol Beat OK

Rep. Charles Key leads ballot access reform with House Bill 1058

State Rep. Charles Key, an Oklahoma City Republican, is leading efforts to make ballot access strictures less onerous in the Sooner State. His House Bill 1058 would cut in half the numbers of signatures needed to quality new political parties 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 the state House 69-17 on “third reading.” It has moved to the Senate. After second reading, it went to the rules committee on March 23.

Co-sponsors 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. 

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

On March 16, Nebraska became the first state this year to enact ballot access reform, according to Richard Winger’s Ballot Access News. The Cornhusker State eliminated “the county distribution requirement for statewide non-presidential independent candidate petitions,” when Governor Dave Heineman signed LB 399 into law.

Three days later, in New Mexico, Senate Bill 403, an omnibus election law measure, passed the state Senate unanimously after previous unanimous approval in the House. The bill contains provisions to extend the petition deadline for independent candidates by three weeks. It also lowers the petition signature requirement for new parties in mid-term election years.

In Illinois, Rep. Jim Watson of Jacksonville introduced House Bill 2854, to allow candidates to pay a filing fee in place of Illinois’ petition requirements. The founder of Free & Equal Elections Foundation, Christina Tobin, is backing the bill, which she believes is “[helping] Illinois in this time of financial crisis, while opening up the electoral process.” Tobin held a press conference recently that included former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson – also an advocate of ballot access reforms — to highlight the national character of the efforts.

Moving east, the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition is working for passage of the Voters’ Choice Act (Senate Bill 21). The bill would lower the threshold for new parties to become recognized for the ballot, and reduce the number of signatures required for independent candidates.

In North Carolina, seven state representatives began pushing the Electoral Freedom Act (House Bill 32) in early February. A companion measure, S.B. 225, was introduced in the Senate early last month. 

In Alabama, an organization called Independent Alabama is backing a ballot access reform effort, while Marylanders4Democracy is pressing the issue in Maryland. The New Hampshire Libertarian Party is pressing a ballot access reform bill in the Granite State. Other states with pending ballot access legislation include Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Missouri and New York.

Christina Tobin stated, “this is the largest number of states pursuing ballot access reform in over a decade. This is a sign that people are waking up, and demanding their right to vote for the candidate of their choice. We’re pleased with the number and quality of the legislation being introduced, and look forward to better government from the coming elections as a result.”

Tobin’s group, Free & Equal, is a nonpartisan, non-profit public-policy advocacy organization dedicated to election reform and improving ballot access laws in the United States.
Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.