Lawmakers review state’s electoral system | Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — Although Republican lawmakers recognize Oklahoma has one of the most secure electoral systems in the nation, they plan to take a closer look at the state’s system this year in an effort to boost confidence overall in the integrity of the results and to increase voter turnout. in school and municipal elections.

More than five dozen election-related bills were introduced in 2022 in an effort to ensure election data security, require post-election audits and add voter ID requirements to the Constitution of State.

But lawmakers said a major election focus this session could likely be a push to limit the number of election days in Oklahoma in an effort to increase voter turnout.

“I hope that as part of the conversation there will be both safety and security in the elections, but we also have a real conversation about the legitimacy of the elections which have such a low turnout that it is hard to call it representative democracy,” said Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City and House Majority Leader.

Echols said if there’s one area where Oklahoma’s elections lack legitimacy, not in terms of security, but in terms of a “legitimate form of government,” it’s when there are elections. where only 300 people show up out of a 30,000 voters.

“You have to start wondering if this is a legitimate way to run government,” he said, adding that he was referring specifically to school board elections. He said he often hears that low voter turnout is acceptable because it means those most affected will vote.

Echols said there was no conceivable way to argue that moving a local election to the primary election when there’s about 10 to 20 times the turnout disenfranchises people.

“Let’s talk about why we have these dates that nobody votes on. It’s because powerful special interests have decided they don’t want a lot of democracy,” he said. “They don’t want a lot of voters. And, they fear that if there were a large number of voters, we would have different results, whether you were talking about mandatory elections, whether you were talking about school board elections or whether you were talking about changes to municipal charters . ”

Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont, said she’s been getting a lot of feedback from voters about the number of election dates and said it’s time for some consistency.

“If you look at the statute, you can have an election almost every month,” she said. “And some months, you can have them multiple days of the month.”

Crosswhite Hader proposed a bill to raise the vote approval threshold to 60% if an entity holds an election on a nontraditional day.

“It seems like every two years or so we try to further consolidate elections or limit the times that schools can hold elections for bond issues or for school board members,” said Shawn Hime, principal. executive of the State School Boards Association.

Hime said lawmakers last moved school board elections three years ago and required school boards and municipalities to hold elections at the same time — a joint primary in February and a general election in April.

Hime said some municipal elections are still held on other dates because cities have charters, which dictate when they have elections. Because they are not under state governance, these cities are allowed to hold elections at different times.

He said he thought there was a middle ground to bring schools, counties, cities and other nonpartisan races together on one ballot, which officials tried to do with the compromise d April three years ago.

Other states that have consolidated local elections into primary or general elections have had very long ballots, “and school board elections and school board bond elections get lost at the end,” Hime said.

“Very few people are voting in these elections, or the top of the elections is drawing all the attention to the fact that very, very few people have the information needed for these other elections,” Hime said.

He said he wasn’t sure if consolidating election dates had actually increased turnout overall, but many times local school board elections have higher turnouts than legislative primaries and of State of June.

“So it’s not just school boards that have voter turnout issues,” Hime said. “The voter turnout issues seem to be at every level, city, state and federal at times.”

Daniel McClure, assistant general counsel for the Oklahoma Municipal League, said the group generally doesn’t think it’s good policy to have a five-page ballot in November because it causes voter fatigue.

He said municipalities are also concerned that if they are deprived of their ability to hold elections outside of November, they will not be able to respond in an emergency.

A few years ago, for example, a community had a “massive water tower problem” where failure was imminent, but they didn’t have the money to fix it without first getting approval. voters to generate new revenue.

“If we need money to put up a deposit or a tax to make sure we have running water and sewage when you flush the toilet, we may have to call a special election for that” , McClure said. “If it’s taken away from us, I just don’t think people are going to be okay with waiting four months to have running water again. And so that flexibility is very important from a local government perspective.

He also said limiting election dates would impact constitutionally required franchise elections involving electricity and gas providers. These are periodically submitted for public approval.

In these elections, which have specific constitutional requirements, the public decides whether they want to continue their franchise agreement with a provider like OG&E. He said some proposed laws would conflict with those constitutional protections.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI newspapers and websites. Contact her at [email protected]

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