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.
It is a change of direction for GOP leadership, which for years pushed voter identification laws that experts say suppressed turnout, while resisting measures intended to encourage participation, such as longer early voting periods, same-day and online registration, and easier ballot access.
“In Oklahoma and across the United States, we had this frantic, contrived debate about voter fraud,” said Keith Gaddie, head of the University of Oklahoma Political Science Department.
Whatever their intent, Gaddie said, laws purportedly passed to fight voter fraud proved more discriminatory than anything else.