Proposed laws to change how and when Oklahomans can vote — or register to vote — are starting to be heard in the Legislature.
A handful of election-related bills have already been voted on in committee. Some far-reaching proposals are scheduled to be heard this week.
As part of Oklahoma Watch’s renewed focus on democracy, I wrote about the 75-plus voting or election bills (and included a searchable table of those bills) filed ahead of the session. Here’s a rundown on where some of them stand.
Voter ID and Federal ‘Overreach’
A Republican-led proposal asking voters to add a voter-ID requirement to the state constitution is moving forward.
The Senate Committee on Rules advanced it to the Senate floor on a 13-0 vote.
Oklahomans passed a state question in 2010 adding a statutory requirement for voters to provide identification, making Oklahoma one of 35 states with a voter ID law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
But Oklahoma’s law is less strict than some others. It allows voters with an ID to request a provisional ballot and prove their identity by signing a sworn affidavit. Their ballot must be verified later by election workers.
Elevating the state’s voter ID requirement to a constitutional provision could give lawmakers more authority to make further changes, including making the state’s law more strict. The constitutional status could safeguard the requirement, which has already been the subject of one lawsuit, from future legal challenges.
Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, who is sponsoring the resolution, said the measure is also an attempt to prevent federal influence if Congress were to pass federal voting legislation.
Another bill similarly seeking to shield the state from changes to federal election laws passed a House committee last week.
House Bill 3232 states that if the federal government makes laws that go against Oklahoma election law, those laws would be followed only during separately held federal elections.
The proposal, which would cost at least $1 million to $1.5 million per election, passed on a 5-2 party-line vote with Democrats in opposition.
Restoring Voting Rights
Democrats saw one of their legislative priorities take a hit when a House committee refused to advance a proposal to make it easier and quicker to restore voting rights to ex-felons.
The proposal from Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, would have clarified when an individual convicted of a felony will be eligible to register to vote. She said it is needed because there has been “some controversy” on when ex-felons, who had a commuted or discharged sentence, can register.
After some discussion, the House Elections and Ethics Committee rejected it on a 4-3 vote.
“I was just simply trying to provide clarity and establish parameters so when folks have been incarcerated they know when their voting rights have been restored,” Goodwin said immediately after the vote. “I think we made this far too complicated, and this is one of those bills that if we can’t get bipartisan support on, God help us.”
Another Democratic-led proposal didn’t advance out of the committee. A bill from Rep. Merleyn Bell, D-Norman would required all state institutions of higher education to make at least one full-time staff member available to notarize ballots during designated absentee voting periods.
Though it didn’t carry a cost, it failed to advance after no other lawmaker agreed to “second” a motion to bring it to a vote.
On This Week’s Agenda
One of the most far-reaching voting-related proposals is scheduled for a first hearing this week.
Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, has authored a measure to require all state voters to re-register after 2023. Oklahomans would also need to provide proof of U.S. citizenship, Oklahoma residence and other identification to regain their voting rights.
The bill will be heard during the House Elections and Ethic’s Committee meeting scheduled for 12 p.m. Thursday in Room 5S2 in the State Capitol.
What you think about these proposals? What other election-related changes would you like to see? Do you have questions that you want answered? If so, email me at email@example.com or find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.
The debate over the so-called “backpack funding” bill that Gov. Kevin Stitt endorsed during his State of the State address continues to play out the State Capitol.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1647, would create universal vouchers by giving any parent a state-funded account for their child’s education
But House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, poured cold water on the plans earlier this month by saying there is not enough support in his chamber and that he has no plans for the House to hear the bill.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, is among the groups still trying to push the proposal.
What I’m Reading This Week
- A federal judge will decide if Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol is likely to cause unconstitutional pain and suffering. [Oklahoma Watch]
- Gilbert Ray Postelle, 35, received a lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, and prison officials declared him dead at 10:14 a.m. Thursday. It was Oklahoma’s fourth execution since October, when the state resumed lethal injections following a nearly seven-year hiatus. [The Associated Press]
- The Department of Public Safety has settled a lawsuit over a trooper cheating and blackmail scandal. [The Frontier]
- The author of a bill that would ban mandatory vaccine mandates as a condition of continued employment put the measure on hold Thursday following scrutiny from fellow Republicans. [Tulsa World]
- Fearful that rural votes are being diluted at the ballot box, several Oklahoma lawmakers say it’s time to overhaul rules governing citizen-led ballot initiatives and the state questions to increase rural influence. [Norman Transcript]
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