Oklahoma gets a C+ on initiative & referendum rights

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The Citizens in Charge Foundation has issued its 2010 report card on voter initiative rights in each of the states. (The full state-by-state report is an 8.2 MB PDF. The flag pictures are pretty -- I always like to see the old-fashioned font, with the arched A, used for OKLAHOMA, instead of the Star Trek original series font -- but they make the document much bigger than necessary.)

Oklahoma was given a C+: Oklahoma gets high marks constitutional guarantee of the right to propose constitutional amendments and ordinary statutes by petition, and to petition for a referendum to repeal a statute, and for including all political subdivisions under its constitutional provisions.

But Oklahoma loses points for an insufficient period for gathering signatures (only 90 days -- second shortest) and a high signature requirement (15% of the last general election for constitutional amendments -- the nation's highest requirement); both provisions make it difficult for grassroots initiatives to make it to the ballot. The report card recommends increasing the signature-gathering period to at least 9 months, reducing the signature requirements to 8% for constitutional amendments and 5% for simple statutes, and tying the signature requirement to the last election for governor, rather than the last general election.

Oklahoma ranks among the toughest states to qualify an initiative for the ballot, with the nation's highest signature requirement and second shortest circulation period. A proposed expansion of the petition period overwhelmingly passed the state legislature in 2009, but was vetoed by the governor. That same year a bill passed that moves the process for challenging the ballot title for an initiative to before signatures are collected, instead of afterward. Additionally, legislators placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2010 allowing voters to decide whether to tie the number of signatures needed to the last election for Governor. Currently the number is tied to the highest office in the preceding elections, which resulted in a 37 percent increase in the number of signatures needed after the 2008 presidential election.

I'm surprised the report didn't mention the controversy over TABOR and the Oklahoma Three, which had to do with the use of out-of-state petition circulators for the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights proposal. The issue of out-of-state circulators is mentioned in several other states' report cards. The need for paid circulators would diminish if a longer signature period and lower signature requirements were adopted.

I'm happy to see that the opportunity to challenge an initiative's ballot title has been moved earlier in the process. It would be frustrating to go through the trouble of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the measure struck down by a court.

(Hat tip to Bob Weeks at WichitaLiberty.org, who reports that Kansas received low marks -- Kansas has local initiative and referendum, but not at the state level.)

UPDATE: Jason Carini informs us in the comments that there is a state question on the ballot that will improve matters some what. It doesn't change the percentages, but it does eliminate presidential election turnout as a basis for the number of required signatures. If SQ 750 passes, only turnout in the last governor's election will be used to determine signature requirements. This PDF shows the amendment to Article V, Section 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution proposed by SQ 750. Here is the approved ballot language for SQ 750:

This measure amends a section of the State Constitution. The section deals with initiative petitions. It also deals with referendum petitions. It deals with how many signatures are required on such petitions. It changes that requirement.

"Initiative" is the right to propose laws and constitutional amendments.
"Referendum" is the right to reject a law passed by the Legislature.

The following voter signature requirements apply.
8% must sign to propose law
15% must sign to propose to change the State Constitution.
5% must sign to order a referendum.

These percentages are based upon the State office receiving the most total votes at the last General Election. The measure changes this basis. The measure's basis uses every other General Election. General Elections are held every two years. The Governor is on the ballot every four years. The measure's basis only uses General Elections with the Governor on the ballot.

The President is on the ballot in intervening General Elections. The measure's basis does not use General Elections with the President on the ballot.

More votes are usually cast at Presidential General Elections. Thus, the measure would generally have a lowering effect on the number of required signatures.

You can read all the state questions on the Oklahoma Secretary of State's website.

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2 Comments

Jason said:

Good news, Mike. There are a couple legislative referendums that came out of last year's session that dealt with this issue.

http://www.sos.state.ok.us/exec_legis/SQ_Proposed.asp

SQ 750 changes the requirements on the number of signatures required.

I was certain there was another referendum that increased the time frame from 90 days to 6 months to collect the signatures. Either it didn't pass, or I overlooked it on the list on proposed state questions.

mark said:

With a 15% requirement I'm shocked we could even score a C+.

What we need is an alliance of interest groups across the political spectrum to sponsor one massive and strategically-timed petition drive to create a ballot question lowering the 15% to 5% or less for all future petitions.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 3, 2010 6:56 AM.

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