Gov. Kevin Stitt touched on election and government transparency issues during his State of the State address on Monday afternoon. Below is a contextualized analysis of Stitt’s comments:
“Protecting Oklahomans means protecting the integrity of our elections.”
Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced more than 90 election and voting-related bills this session. Some would restrict absentee voting or the initiative petition process. Others aim to boost pay and legal protections for precinct officials.
Fourteen election-related bills were signed into law last year, including measures restricting the use of private funds in elections and authorizing criminal investigations of residences where 10 or more registered voters reside. The Voting Rights Lab, a nonprofit organization that tracks election legislation nationwide, rated Oklahoma’s actions on voter access bills in 2022 as mixed.
Oklahoma’s election system is regarded as among the nation’s most secure. A review of 2022 general election results found two instances where the certified election results varied slightly from the audit totals.
“I’m calling for stronger transparency laws, because Oklahomans deserve to know who is funding political campaigns. A democracy is doomed when special interests can spread lies and leverage blank checks to buy elections.”
Dark money groups who aren’t required to report their donors poured millions of dollars into last year’s gubernatorial election, with much of the money spent on television advertisements opposing Stitt. During an October debate, Stitt decried the advertisements and suggested his Democratic opponent Joy Hofmeister knew who was behind the effort. Hofmeister denied that claim.
The spending wasn’t limited to the governor’s race. Outside groups poured at least $33.6 million into Oklahoma races during the 2022 election cycle, nearly double what was reported in 2018, according to an analysis of state Ethics Commission filings conducted by The Frontier.
Ahead of the June 28 primary election, independent expenditures from outside groups totaled nearly $10 million, with about half going to statewide races and the remainder being spent on state House and Senate campaigns.
Through ballot initiatives and legislative action, states like Arizona and California have passed measures strengthening financial disclosure requirements for nonprofit groups involved in state and local elections. The Oklahoma Ethics Commission, which received less than $700,000 in appropriations from the Legislature in Fiscal Year 2023, would likely require additional funding to enforce similar rules in Oklahoma.
“We will always fight back against the federal overreach from Washington.”
Two bills filed by House Republicans seek to limit the federal government’s influence on state and local elections.
House Bill 1415 by Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont, would establish a process for separating state and federal elections should Congress pass voting reforms that significantly deviate from Oklahoma’s election laws.
Crosswhite Hader authored a similar proposal last year, which cleared the House on a party-line Republican vote but stalled in the Senate in the final weeks of the session.
House Bill 2504 by Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore, would require state agencies and county election boards to provide written notice to the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President within 10 days of receiving election-related communication from the federal government.
Keaton Ross is a Report for America corps member who covers democracy for Oklahoma Watch. Contact him at (405) 831-9753 or Kross@Oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter at @_KeatonRoss.