Sunday, August 08, 2010

Oklahoma Needs Ballot Access Reform

NewsOK.com ran a story this morning that highlights the struggles of independent and third party candidates face in the Sooner state.

From the story –
Voters who are registered as independent received ballots only for nonpartisan judicial races and county questions during the July 27 primary.

"It doesn't really give us any options. It puts us in the spectator scene," said Marcus Kesler, state administrator of the Pirate Party of Oklahoma. "Maybe if independents wouldn't have been excluded from the primary elections, some of the primaries might have gone in a different direction."

State voter registration figures show the number of independents in Oklahoma has increased in the past 30 years, growing from 15,830 in 1980 to about 232,350 this year.

Several political parties are classified as independent parties in Oklahoma, including the Green Party, the Pirate Party and the Libertarian Party.

Under current state law, a candidate from a third party must meet candidate requirements and pay a filing fee to appear on the general election ballot. Activists argue that Oklahoma needs ballot access reform to allow political parties to appear on the ballot along with the candidates' names.

"As an independent on the ballot, they don't know what I believe," said Clark Duffe, a Libertarian Party candidate for Oklahoma City's congressional seat. "They don't know if I'm a communist or an anarchist, or what. I have to explain that every time I talk to somebody."

[...]

While it's easy for a third-party candidate to get on the ballot, it's tough to become an established party, said Micah Gamino, vice chairman of Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform.

"There are a lot of issues out there, and third parties are the only ones talking about them," Gamino said.

Oklahoma has some of the strictest requirements in the nation for listing third-party candidates on the ballot with their party affiliations, Gamino said.

To become a recognized third party, supporters must collect signatures for up to a year after declaring their intent to form a party.

The number of required signatures varies; it is 5 percent of the total votes cast in the last general election for governor or president, according to the state statute. In the 2008 presidential election, 1.4 million people voted.

A party attempting to get on the ballot would have to get about 73,130 signatures to meet the state requirement.

A bill to decrease the signature requirement for a third party died in the Legislature this past session. Gamino said the group will continue to lobby lawmakers for change.

"It's hard to get a party to grow if you're not on the ballot," Gamino said. "Electoral politics is the organization's main function. ... People get really disenchanted with supporting your party. Why would they contribute money if you won't even have a candidate on the ballot?

"That's why ballot access has to come first."
I couldn’t agree more. The Republican and Democratic Parties have a stranglehold on the electoral process in Oklahoma and that desperately needs to change.

Ralh Nader will be in OKC speaking on this very topic on Wednesday, September 8th at 7pm at the Oklahoma City Marriott, 3233 Northwest Expressway – Grand Ballroom. The even is open to the public and admission is free. You can find out more information about the event here.

Sadly though, I doubt ballot access will ever happen in this state. So many Oklahomans are such staunch Republicans (or staunch conservatives) that I can’t fathom the masses of the state rising up and demanding ballot reform. This also works out for the Democrats as well. They may be in a minority in the state, but there is no way that they are going to relinquish what little power they do have. So as much as I’d love to see this much needed reform take place, I doubt it ever will.

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