MIAMI — Both Oklahoma League of Women’s Voters Jan Largent and Oklahoma Rep. Ben Loring have expressed disappointment in a piece of legislation that worked around an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision on a requirement to have absentee ballots.
The court ruled in a 6-3 decision Monday, May 4, that a statement signed, dated and made under the penalty of perjury by a voter is enough to submit a ballot.
Oklahoma had been one of only three states that required notarized absentee ballots.
But Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation three days later that imposes new restrictions on those who vote absentee.
The bill passed 38-9 along party lines, with Democrats opposed.
The new law states that as long as a state of emergency dealing with COVID-19 is in effect, voters wanting to cast absentee ballots by mail must include a photocopy of their voter registration card or photo identification.
After the pandemic emergency is over, the law reverts to where ballots must be notarized.
“It is somewhat hypocritical that the legislature was using extraordinary means, including legislators voting from home, voting in shifts and using social distancing to say the masses of our citizens can’t use extraordinary means in order to vote at the upcoming election,” District 7 State Rep. Ben Loring said. “Someone shouldn’t have to choose between their health and life and their constitutional right to vote. Those that spoke in favor of this bill repeatedly vacillated between saying how good our system in Oklahoma is at preventing fraud (‘best in the country’ is the phrase most often used) to how much fraud we already have. Their proof of fraud: more people are asking for absentee ballots right now than ever before.”
A lawsuit — The League of Women Voters, Angela Zea Patrick, and Peggy Jeanne Winton v. Paul Ziriax, Secretary of the State Election Board —was filed in April in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The League of Women Voters of Oklahoma was quite disappointed,” LWVOK President Jan Largent told the News-Record in an emailed statement. "Created from the last-minute gutting of other bills, SB 210 would require a copy of a voter's state ID to accompany their absentee ballot, reinstating the problematic concerns of the notarization requirement struck down by the court. This would be allowed during a state of emergency that has been called by the governor 45 days before an election.
"This is a huge concern to LWVOK in that we don't know how long the state of emergency will last and if COVID-19 will re-surge this summer and fall. Furthermore, many voters don't have printers in their homes and would have to leave to get a copy of their ID, potentially exposing them to the virus.”
Largent said another bill that concerns the organization is HVR 1027, which would make the initiative petition option much more difficult, and takes power away from Oklahoma voters.
If passed, this bill could allow one single congressional district to effectively veto a measure approved by the rest of the state.
“This potential unilateral power by a minority of citizens does not represent democracy,” Largent said. “Presently, every voter can decide on issues at the ballot box by voting either for or against particular state questions.
"The Oklahoma constitution makes available to voters an alternative path to legislative action, to be used when the Legislature neglects its legislative duty or enacts inappropriate legislation. This bill makes it much more difficult for citizens to exercise that right. Passage of HJR 1027 would dilute voter power and make the Legislature less accountable.”
The statewide primary and special elections were pushed back from April 7 to June 30 because of COVID-19.
Runoff elections are Aug. 25 with the general election Nov. 3.