Nearly a year ago, a coalition of voter-advocacy groups wrote a letter to Oklahoma’s top elections official to deliver a stark, but not uncommon, message: The state had failed to comply with federal law. Specifically, the groups charged, Oklahoma was not giving citizens receiving public assistance an opportunity to register to vote, which is a requirement of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. “We hope to work amicably with you to remedy Oklahoma’s non-compliance,” the advocates wrote. “However, we will pursue litigation if necessary.” Such warnings are often a precursor to lawsuits, the kind of knock-down, drag-out legal fights that are filled with accusations of voter suppression and partisan chicanery. In North Carolina and Texas, the courts are weighing challenges to new voter-ID laws, and the Supreme Court recently delivered voter advocates a victory when it ruled that Arizona and Kansas could not require people to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote.
Articles about voting issues in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma residents who seek public assistance from various state agencies will be provided more opportunities to register to vote under the terms of a settlement agreement announced Thursday that would stave off a potential lawsuit over the state’s compliance with federal voting laws. Details of the settlement were released by the Oklahoma State Election Board and several voting rights advocacy groups that had voiced concerns about Oklahoma’s compliance with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.
A law that goes into effect Nov. 1 will permit electronic voter registration in Oklahoma. This is one of several election reform measures introduced in the Legislature this year by Sen. David Holt. Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said lawmakers took initial steps to address what he calls a “civic participation crisis,” but adds that more needs to be done. “Improving voter turnout is going to be a long process, and the responsibility is by no means limited to policymakers,” he said. “We all have to take ownership.” About 40 percent of registered voters participated on Nov. 4 when Gov. Mary Fallin won re-election over Democratic challenger Joe Dorman. But the true voter participation rate was less than 30 percent, considering how many eligible citizens were not registered to vote.
A law that goes into effect Nov. 1 will permit electronic voter registration in Oklahoma. This is one of several election reform measures introduced in the Legislature this year by Sen. David Holt. Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said lawmakers took initial steps to address what he calls a “civic participation crisis,” but adds that more needs to be done.
After years of doing just about all it could to restrict voting, the Oklahoma Legislature is now trying to encourage it. Historically low voter turnout last year prompted lawmakers to come forward this session with dozens of election reform proposals. About a half-dozen remain in play. The proposals range from increasing the number of absentee ballots a notary public can notarize to an 80-percent reduction in the number of signatures needed for a political party to gain access to the ballot. Others include consolidating elections, online registration and a permanent absentee ballot list. All are Republican bills, and in most cases survived their first floor votes with little opposition.
With more than a third of Oklahoma’s eligible voters not even registered, lawmakers are considering allowing online registration to make the process more convenient and renew interest in elections. An online voter registration bill that received bipartisan support in the Senate is among several measures regarding Oklahoma’s election process that are pending as the session passed the deadline for proposed legislation to be considered in the chamber of origin. In January 2005, more than 2.1 million people were registered to vote, according to state Election Board statistics. Ten years later and about 10 percent more residents, 119,280 fewer Oklahoma residents were registered to vote than in 2005. Last year’s general election drew less than 30 percent of Oklahoma’s eligible voters.
With more than a third of Oklahoma’s eligible voters not even registered, lawmakers are considering allowing online registration to make the process more convenient and renew interest in elections. An online voter registration bill that received bipartisan support in the Senate is among several measures regarding Oklahoma’s election process that are pending as the session passed the deadline for proposed legislation to be considered in the chamber of origin.
The Senate Rules Committee has advanced three proposals introduced by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, to modernize Oklahoma’s election system and increase rapidly declining voter participation. In 1992, over 70 percent of eligible Oklahomans participated in the presidential election, but by 2012, that percentage had plunged to only 52 percent, third-worst in the nation. In 2014, less than 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the statewide general election. A third of eligible Oklahomans are not even registered. There were fewer registered voters in 2014 than there were in 1988, even though the state’s population has grown 22 percent.
Voters could apply to become permanent absentee voters under a measure approved by the Oklahoma House Elections and Ethics Committee today. State Rep. Elise Hall, author of House Bill 1559, said the intent of her legislation is to improve the absentee ballot system and encourage greater voter participation. “The current absentee ballot process forces individuals to apply for a ballot each and every election,” said Hall, R-Oklahoma City. “That can be a real hardship for traveling voters, nursing home residents and other incapacitated individuals. It makes more sense to allow people to apply for a permanent absentee status so that they can receive ballots for each election in which they are eligible to vote.”
In the election process, casting your vote, and the steps the lead up to it are virtually frozen in the past. “I’ve never met a government process that can’t be modernized,” said Oklahoma State Senator David Holt, looking to kick start election reform with a series of bills that would hopefully increase voter turnout. How bad have things gotten? “In 1992 over 70% of Oklahomans voted in the Presidential election, but in 2012 only 50%, third worst in the nation,” he said. The bills would do things such as online voter registration, and voting by mail like folks do in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. … As for one day actually voting online? “We’re a ways off, decades probably,” said Holt.