Tulsa Election Reform Task Force info; Bynum response on charter amendments

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Last night (July 1, 2010), the Tulsa City Council postponed consideration of three proposed charter amendments involving the city election process.

Following the meeting, District 9 City Councilor G. T. Bynum was kind enough to send me some background information on the proposed amendments, including a link to the page on the tulsacouncil.org website with information on the Election Reform Task Force and its recommendations. The task force materials include research by council staff on election practices regarding independent candidates in other cities. I sent him seven questions in reply, and he answered those as well. Here (with his permission) is his first email to me:

Michael:

Regarding the charter amendments that weren't posted online, as soon as Councilor Eagleton brought that to my attention I agreed we should delay two weeks to allow for public review. It was my understanding that they had been posted, but clearly not.

All of the documents compiled during the task force (including the final findings) can be found on the Council website here: http://www.tulsacouncil.org/research--policy/resources/other-reports.aspx

The intent of the amendments - and these come from the task force's work over a couple of months, not from my invention - is to make the election system more equitable between partisan and independent candidates: to allow for the same filing requirements (either signatures or filing fees for either group), the same primary system, and the same run-off system (also proposed in the amendments).

I do think it is important to note that representatives of both the Republican and Democrat County parties were present and offered insight at most of the meetings. Representatives from Tulsans for Better Government spoke and offered their thoughts on nonpartisan elections. This wasn't just a few city councilors sitting around a table shooting the breeze.

I also think, after reading Mike Easterling's story, that it needs to be pointed out that I offered Mark Perkins repeated opportunities to participate and offer his insight from running as an Independent but he declined. Lawrence Kirkpatrick (the other Independent candidate for Mayor in 2009) did accept our invitation and had a great deal of experience to share on Independent candidacies.

Best Regards,

GT

Here are Bynum's responses to my questions. For clarity of presentation, I'm interleaving my questions with his responses:

1. Currently anyone can file as an independent candidate regardless of party registration. Will that still be possible under the proposed amendments?

1. I don't have the election law before me but I can tell you we didn't discuss that topic and none of the proposed changes address that. I'm not certain existing law allows that, as I recall hearing complaints that Mark Perkins (a registered Republican) shouldn't have been allowed to file as an Independent but no one called him on it during the period immediately after filing when challenges can be made.

2. Do the proposed amendments provide for runoffs in general elections or special elections?

2. Only primary elections are addressed.

3. Who raised the concern regarding equity for independent candidates?

3. In our discussion with Independent Mayoral candidates (where Mr. Kirkpatrick showed up and Mr. Perkins declined the invite), Mr. Kirkpatrick made a strong case for allowing Independent candidates to pay a filing fee just like partisan candidates. He said he thought a primary for Independents would be fair if the filing requirements were the same for everyone (partisans and Indies). And, if my memory serves correct, some councilors felt that they would prefer to be able to assemble a petition rather than pay a filing fee - that this would open it up (particularly Council races) to more candidates

4. What specific examples of harm to particular candidates have occurred as a result of the current situation -- e.g. someone who intended to run as an independent but was deterred by the petition requirement?

4. No specific instances of harm were raised.

5. You mention representatives of Tulsans for Better Government. Who were the individuals who participated in the task force discussions on behalf of that organization?

5. Reuben Davis spoke on behalf of Tulsans for Better Government. Chris Medlock was there that day representing the GOP at Sally Bell's request. No Democrat Party representative was present, but several Democratic councilors (particularly Councilor Turner) offered their thoughts on the issue.

6. A group called Tulsans Defending Democracy was organized in 2005 to oppose Tulsans for Better Government's proposal for at-large councilors. A few representatives each from TDD and TBG were appointed by Bill LaFortune to his citizens' commission on city government. Were any representatives of TDD invited to participate in the Election Reform Task Force?

6. No. To be honest, I'm embarassed to say this is the first I've heard of TDD (I was in DC when all of that occurred) but did want to balance out TBG, which is why we originally invited both Party chairs. The Party input was very helpful so we ended up inviting them to each subsequent meeting. Mr. Medlock in particular had a lot of knowledge about how races are conducted around the country and historically in Tulsa.

7. Are there minutes or recordings of task force meetings?

7. I know Council staff was there taking notes, and each meeting was posted. I am copying my Council aide, Nick Doctor, who can assist in that regard. Also, League of Women Voters attended every meeting and took notes - not that this would count as minutes but they might have some info that our minutes don't cover.

I still haven't seen the actual amendments. If Bynum's answer to question 1 is accurate, the proposal could bring about non-partisan elections in all but name. The charter allows anyone, regardless of party registration, to run as an independent provided they can put together 300 signatures. Mark Perkins, a registered Republican, did this in 2009. In 1986, under the old City Charter, Patty Eaton, who had filed as a Democrat for reelection as Water and Sewer Commissioner, filed as an independent for Mayor after the primary defeat of incumbent Democrat Terry Young by Tom Quinn.

By allowing a filing fee (really a deposit, refundable if the candidate receives enough votes) in lieu of a petition, more candidates are likely to opt for an independent run, particularly if the proposal for an "independent primary" is not put before or approved by the voters.

Here's the current Tulsa City Charter language:

SECTION 3.2. FILING FOR OFFICE--INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES. Any person who desires to be an independent candidate for a city office shall file with the Election Board of Tulsa County or its successor a Declaration of Candidacy which shall state:

A. The name and residence street address of the person as it appears on the voter registration records; and

B. The name of the office sought.

The Declaration of Candidacy of the independent candidate shall have attached a supporting petition which shall be signed by at least three hundred (300) qualified electors from the city at large if the independent candidate seeks the office of Mayor or City Auditor or from the election district if the independent candidate seeks the office of Councilor from an election district.

There were similar provisions in the 1908 Tulsa City Charter (from the 1917 edition of Compiled Ordinances of Tulsa):

3. In case a primary election is held pursuant to the call or under the direction of any political party, or of any association of individuals for the nomination of candidates for the offices of Mayor and Commissioners and City Auditor, the candidates or persons voted for in said primary election shall be voted for at large by all of the legally qualified voters in said City according to and in the manner now or hereafter provided by the general election law of the State of Oklahoma.

Independent candidates for Mayor or for positions on said Board of Commissioners or for City Auditor shall be entitled to have their names placed on the official ballot to be used in the regular election by filing with the City Auditor, not less than ten days before such election, a written petition therefor , which shall be signed by such candidate and by at least one hundred qualified voters of said city.

(The 1908 charter also provided for a runoff ("second election") if no one received a majority of the vote in the "regular election". If someone has a version of the charter from the 1980s, just before the change, I'd love to have a copy.)

I do find it hard to believe that this push for charter amendments is at the behest of Lawrence Kirkpatrick, a perennial candidate without much of a constituency. The question remains: Who is pushing for this? Why now? Where is the problem that these amendments are supposed to solve?

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1 Comments

Moogle Author Profile Page said:

Implying that people running as an independent have an unfair advantage because they don't have to go through a primary ignores the basic fact that partisan candidates don't have to go through a primary either: They can run as an independent.

Another basic fact that is being ignored is that primaries are not elections, they are a nomination process; they are party business. If you don't want to mess with the business, then don't; run as an independent.

There is no entity called the Independent Party to conduct its business and make a nomination of a candidate. Requiring some kind of independent nomination process is, in effect, trying to create an Independent Party.

If the intent is truly to make things "fair" and level the playing field, then, since an independent candidate has no party backing or support, it is only fair that partisan candidates be prohibited from receiving any support from the party or its members. The whole point of trying for the party nomination is the huge advantage that comes with getting it. An independent candidate gets no such advantage, so partisan candidates shouldn't be allowed to have it either (if we're being "fair").

If fairness means everybody must run in some kind of primary nomination, then in those years where a partisan candidate has no opposition for the party nomination, do we require that person to run in the independent primary? If not, why not?

Now, I could support a requirement that, right up front, you decide if you are going to try for the party nomination, or you are going to run as an independent. One or the other. No running as an independent if you lose the party nomination.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 2, 2010 1:05 AM.

Report on Bartlett Jr, Simonson, and the JAG grant online was the previous entry in this blog.

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