State lawmakers opted not to make sweeping changes to Oklahoma’s voting laws, instead focusing on measures aimed at cracking down on threats or fraud ahead of the 2024 presidential election cycle.
As the Legislature’s 2023 session winded down Friday, here’s a look at how state lawmakers approached voting and election administration policy:
Capitol Watch 2023
Keaton Ross reviews the Legislature’s action and inaction during the session that concluded Friday and its effects on:
The Big Impact: Election officials statewide have new legal protections as the 2024 presidential election cycle approaches.
Senate Bill 481 classifies threatening, harassing, intimidating or doxing an election official as a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said the bill is necessary to protect officials recently targeted by individuals who falsely believe there is widespread voter fraud in Oklahoma.
“As one of those who has been doxed and threatened, I can tell you that election officials across this state are very grateful to the Legislature and the Governor for taking these threats seriously and enacting this legislation to deter and punish such actions in the future,” Ziriax said in a statement. “All election workers should be able to serve our state and perform their civic duties without fear of threats and harassment.”
Poll workers are also set to receive a significant pay bump. Senate Bill 290, which takes effect on July 1, 2024, raises the daily compensation for precinct judges and clerks from $100 to $200 per day. Inspectors, who act as the lead precinct official, will receive $225 per day when the measure takes effect next year.
“It is incredibly important that we recruit and retain poll workers as there has been a shortage in recent years,” bill sponsor Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, said in a statement on Thursday. “Increasing compensation is the least we can do for these dedicated community members who often work 12 to 14 hours on election day.”
Also Notable: Oklahoma is opting against joining an interstate organization that helps states root out fraud and boost voter registration.
House Bill 2052 forbids the state from joining any voter list maintenance group that requires outreach to eligible but unregistered voters. That would effectively bar the state from joining the Electronic Registration Information Center, an interstate cooperative that helps states identify duplicate registrations and out-of-state movers.
The Legislature authorized the organization in 2021, with lawmakers lauding the organization’s ability to help states keep their voter rolls clean and reach people who aren’t registered to vote. But cost and data privacy concerns, along with dissatisfaction with recent board-level decisions, have caused lawmakers and the state’s top election official to sour on partnering with the organization.
Left Behind: Proposals seeking to add requirements to Oklahoma’s initiative petition process, which organizers say is already among the most stringent in the nation among states that allow voters to put a question on the ballot, didn’t gain traction.
Most of the measures, including resolutions to mandate signature collection in all 77 counties and require questions raising state government expenditures to receive at least 60% approval to take effect, would have required approval from a majority of voters to take effect.
An exception was Senate Bill 518, which proposed implementing a $750 filing fee for initiative petitions and increasing the number of data points necessary to verify a signature. The measure cleared the Senate but failed to win approval in the House.
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.