The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday backed a state requirement that voters provide a photo ID at the polls, the latest decision in a nationwide battle between voting rights advocates who say the laws are aimed at suppressing turnout and conservatives who say the protections are needed to prevent voter fraud. The court upheld a lower court ruling 8 to 0 with one justice recusing. “The Oklahoma Voter ID Act is a reasonable procedural regulation to ensure that voters meet identity and residency qualifications and does not cause an undue burden,” according to the 8-0 ruling, with one justice recusing, which upholds a lower court ruling in the lawsuit.
Articles about voting issues in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma will not be the latest state to allow voters to take selfies with their ballots, after Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill this week that would’ve legalized the seemingly innocuous, but controversial practice. Fallin, a Republican, declined to sign a bill that would’ve allowed Oklahomans to take photos of their marked ballots, from either an absentee form or a voting booth, and share the images on social media. So-called “ballot selfies” have become increasingly popular over the past several election cycles, but ballot-security experts and elections officials in some states have become increasingly wary of the images’ potential to be abused.
Another round of federal elections is just months away, and Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford has a bill to guard them against foreign interference. Provisions of the Secure Elections Act would help push out paperless voting systems and encourage all states to audit their elections after they’re finished. Lankford told CNN states will still be running their elections. “But where states are not keeping up their equipment, we need to be able to encourage those states and help provide some grants to those states to say, ‘Go take care of your equipment,'” Lankford said. “We don’t want to have at the end of the next election a guess that the election had fraud in it, that they got into an election system.”
With various legislator scandals and resignations, the Oklahoma State Election Board is on track to spend as much as a quarter of a million dollars on special elections this year. Eight state legislators have resigned their seats early since Dec. 31, 2016. Along with multiple resignations due to various sex and malfeasance scandals at the Oklahoma Legislature, a few lawmakers also have stepped down over the past year to take new full-time jobs. Among three special elections scheduled for Nov. 14 is one to replace Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow, who died while in office.
More than 60 legislative bills have been filed since 2015 that seek to expand or create new options for Oklahomans to vote or register to vote. But an Oklahoma Watch review of the legislation considered during the past three sessions shows that most didn’t even get a committee hearing. All but 10 failed to reach the governor’s desk. Among the survivors, the most potentially significant one – approved in 2015 to allow online voter registration – may not take effect for two to three more years, meaning most voters in the 2018 elections will likely encounter few changes that appreciably improve voter convenience or efficiency.
The ongoing fight to overturn Oklahoma’s voter identification law – a legal challenge that has spanned more than five years – could soon face a new obstacle. The state Senate passed a joint resolution this week that seeks to amend the Oklahoma Constitution with language requiring “proof of identity” to be able to vote. In practice, this would have little to no impact on the state’s existing law that requires voters to show a voter ID card or a photo ID issued by the U.S. government, Oklahoma state government or an Oklahoma tribal government. Elevating the requirement to the constitutional level would better shield it from lawsuits, including one that is now before the state Supreme Court.
A state lawmaker has filed a bill that would eliminate straight party voting. Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, is the author of Senate Bill 9. “I think it is unnecessary to have the straight-party option,” Dossett said Monday. “I think it is something that might have had value in the past when people couldn’t inform themselves on the candidate and vote.” Ten states including Oklahoma offer straight-party voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The number of states offering it has been declining in recent years, according to the NCSL. Dossett said it probably benefited Democrats when they were in power and now benefits Republicans. His filing of the measure is not related to the recent elections, Dossett said.
A more than four-year legal challenge to overturn Oklahoma’s voter identification law was rejected this week by a state district court judge, who upheld the constitutionality of the measure. Oklahoma County District Court Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons dismissed the case Monday after hearing arguments from lawyers representing the Oklahoma State Election Board and Tulsa resident Delilah Christine Gentges. Gentges’ attorney said he plans to appeal the decision. Gentges sued after 74 percent of voters approved a state question in 2010 that requires every voter, before casting a ballot, to show proof of identity issued by the U.S. government, Oklahoma state government or an Oklahoma tribal government. Like in many other states that have passed similar laws, voter-rights advocates here argued the requirement is unconstitutional because it interferes with residents’ right to vote.
Oklahoma election officials hope that a new online voter registration system will increase voter participation in the state. Since 2000, the number of people eligible to cast a ballot who haven’t registered to vote in the state has more than doubled, the Tulsa World reported Sunday. About 389,000 of the nearly 2.5 million eligible Oklahomans did not register in 2000, and that number grew to more than 800,000 of the total eligible population by 2014. The 30-to-39-year-old age group showed the biggest decrease in voter registration, falling from 82 percent to 62 percent. But the 18-to-29-year-old group continues to have the lowest percentage of registered voters, falling from 61 percent to 48 percent.
Soon the Oklahoma House of Representatives will vote on Bill 2277 to clarify voting rights for ex-felons. The proposal authored by State Representative Regina Goodwin passed committee in a 6-0 vote. Current Oklahoma law states a completed prison sentence also completes a ban from voting. However, Goodwin said not every former offender knows they have that right. “I was knocking on doors and there was a man that had been sitting there for 35 years and he said to me he couldn’t vote, that really hurt. And I said, ‘Why are folks thinking they can’t vote?” said Goodwin.