Oklahoma lawmakers are looking to make some of the biggest changes to the initiative and referendum process since the state was founded in 1907.

Earlier this session, I wrote about how a package of proposals that would make it harder for many state questions to pass cleared the House of Representative and awaits consideration in the Senate.

I have also written about how some lawmakers are pushing for these changes on questionable claims that out-of-state interests were behind some of the latest state questions, such as the 2018 question that legalized medical marijuana or the 2020 one that expanded Medicaid.

In my latest for Oklahoma Watch, I continue to take a deep dive into these proposals, this time looking at whether it’s conceivable that groups could still get ballot if these proposals pass.

Specifically, I am looking at what would happen if House Joint Resolution 1002 passes and then is approved by voters later this year.

It would require citizen-led groups to collect minimum number of signatures from each of the state’s 77 counties, instead of the current statewide requirements. 

It specifically would require enough signatures of registered voters to equal 8% or 15% of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election — depending on if it’s a statutory or constitutional change — in every county. 

Currently signature gathers need between 8% or 15% of the state.

That means even if signature collectors gathered thousands of verified signatures beyond the current statewide requirement, their entire effort could be doomed if they fall short in any of the 77 counties.

I talked to several experts, democracy advocates and members of groups that have used the state question process before. They told me if the geographic requirements were put in place, it would effectively end the initiative and petition process for anyone outside of well funded and coordinated campaigns (likely backed by out of state interests).

Oklahoma already has some of the most restrictive laws among the 26 states with an initiative or referendum process. As this table showing a comparison of state laws shows, Oklahoma has one of the shortest circulation periods (90 days to collect signatures) and has higher signature-collection requirements than many other states.

Republican lawmakers pushing these measures say they will help Oklahomans, especially those in rural communities, know more about what’s on the ballot before Election Day. The geographical requirement, they say, will also prevent groups from focusing on more liberal Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas to collect signatures.

It is unclear whether the Senate will take up the proposals. HJR1002 has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee. The bill must pass out of committee by April 14 and then off the Senate floor by April 28.

What do you think about these proposals? Or what type of state question would you like to see on the ballot this year or in coming years? As always, feel free to reach out by emailing me at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or finding me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.

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If you were looking to change your party affiliation and didn’t do so by Thursday, you will have wait a bit.

State law requires any party changes to take place by March 31 for the changes to be in effect for the upcoming June primary and then the August run-off elections.

Changes made after this time will be processed after Aug. 31.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • A new report raises questions on millions of dollars tourism officials spent on Swadley’s Foggy Bottom restaurants. [The Frontier]
  • Oklahoma’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, Jena Nelson, announced her candidacy for state superintendent of public instruction Thursday, becoming the only Democrat seeking the statewide post. [NonDoc]
  •  Surrounded by several dozen female athletes, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a controversial bill preventing transgender athletes from participating in female school athletic events. [Norman Transcript]
  • President Joe Biden said Thursday that his administration is “standing up” for transgender Americans against “hateful bills” being passed at the state level and that he is committed to advancing equality across society. [The Oklahoman]
  • Over 100,000 Oklahoma City residents now live in a new ward, thanks to city council’s approval this week of a new ward map after a months-long redistricting process. [The Oklahoman]

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