Oklahoma State Questions: some background

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This is the first in a planned series on the 11 state questions on the November 2, 2010, Oklahoma general election ballot.

In Oklahoma, a state question can be either the result of an initiative petition obtaining the required number of signatures or the legislature referring a matter for the voters' decision (a legislative referendum). State questions are usually constitutional amendments, but they can also be used to pass legislation. For example, the 2004 votes on a tobacco tax and lottery involved state statutes but did not amend the Constitution; the legislature could choose to repeal or amend them. On several occasions, a state question has specifically called for the repeal of some recently-approved legislation.

All amendments to the Oklahoma Constitution, whether initiated by petition or the legislature, must go to a vote of the people. Ten of the 11 questions this year -- one initiative petition and nine legislative referenda -- involve constitutional amendments. Another legislative referendum -- SQ 746, pertaining to voter ID -- amends state statutes.

While the ballot titles are supposed to be accurate descriptions of the proposed amendment or statute in plain English, the descriptions have no legal standing once the question is approved. If you want to know what you are really voting for -- the language that will be added, modified, or deleted in the state constitution and statutes -- you need to look it up on the Secretary of State's website.

This page has the ballot language and text of the petition for each of the 11 proposals on November's ballot. Clicking on the little PDF icon next to each state question will bring up the constitutional or statutory language that will be enacted if the proposition passes.

You can also browse or search the database of all Oklahoma state questions, going all the way back to SQ 1 in 1908. The first column of the table contains the state question number, hyperlinked to a PDF of the relevant petition or legislation, and memoranda from various state offices pertaining to putting the matter on the ballot. (It would be nice if we could filter by value in each field -- e.g., type of state question, status, date range -- and better still if the database were available for download as a spreadsheet.)

One of the quirks of Oklahoma initiative law is that the signature requirements can vary greatly, depending on whether the most recent general election was a presidential election or a gubernatorial election. Turnout is significantly higher for presidential years, and signature requirements are tied to the number of votes cast in the most recent general election. A question on this year's ballot (SQ 750), sponsored in the legislature by State Sen. Randy Brogdon, would use only the last governor's election as a basis for signature requirements.

In the coming weeks, BatesLine will be reviewing each of the state questions, looking beyond the ballot language to the text of the proposed amendment, linking to advocates for and against (where they exist), weighing the pros and cons, and making a recommendation on each. If you know of an organization backing or opposing one of the state questions, drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com.

MORE:

The Initiative & Referendum Institute's article on Oklahoma.

Oklahoma's page on Ballotpedia -- lots of info about Oklahoma's I&R rights and each state question in state history.

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1 Comments

mark said:

Thanks Michael. This is a great service, and should be required reading for every voter . . . sort of like photo ID.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 30, 2010 10:39 PM.

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