Oklahoma’s ballot initiative process is making headlines.
After Kansas voters decided to protect the state’s constitutional right to abortion care earlier this month, reporter Carmen Forman of The Oklahoman published an article about the possibility of a similar question appearing on the ballot in Oklahoma.
Last week my colleague Paul Monies wrote about the state hiring an outside contractor to count and verify ballot initiative signatures.
From criminal justice reform to Medicaid expansion, Oklahoma voters have approved significant policy changes through citizen-led initiatives. But the path to ballot can be anything but easy.
Here’s a brief primer on how citizen initiatives make the ballot in Oklahoma.
Who can start an initiative petition?
Citizen-led initiatives require at least three primary sponsors. To start the process, the group must notify the Secretary of State’s office of their intent to file a draft petition.
Required documents include a fiscal review and an explanation of the measure. Once this paperwork is submitted, the Secretary of State reviews the initiative’s language and forwards it to the Attorney General’s office for further review. The attorney general may interpret language as difficult to understand, misleading or biased and propose revisions.
After the petition number has been publicized, there’s a 10-business-day window where citizens may challenge the constitutionality of the initiative.
When can organizers begin collecting signatures? How many signatures are required?
Within 30 days of the resolution of all legal challenges, the Secretary of State’s office must set a date allowing the collection of signatures to begin. Organizers then have 90 days to collect the necessary number of signatures.
The required total varies based on the type of ballot initiative. Here’s a breakdown:
- Constitutional amendments require at least 15% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. In 2022, this total is 177,958.
- Initiated state statutes, which modify state law, require at least 8% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. In 2022, this total is 94,911.
- Veto referendums, which ask voters whether to repeal or uphold a law passed by the legislature, require at least 5% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. In 2022, this total is 59,320.
Once signatures are verified, how long does it take an initiative to reach the ballot?
It varies. While there’s no deadline for signatures to be counted, they have historically been counted and verified 3 to 4 weeks after submission. Legal challenges may arise even after the votes have been counted.
Amber England, who ran the successful Medicaid expansion initiative in 2020, told Oklahoma Watch earlier this month that the initiative process has many opportunities for opponents to stall or challenge the effort.
Once the votes have been counted and all litigation has been resolved, the Secretary of State’s office notifies the governor, who issues an election proclamation. The state election board must receive this notice at least 70 days before the next election in order for the initiative to appear on the ballot.
How does Oklahoma’s process compare to other states?
Oklahoma is one of 28 states that allow citizens to initiate legislation. Of these states, Oklahoma’s requirements to get a question on the ballot are among the most stringent, according to the non-partisan Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.
For example, Arkansas requires signatures equal to 10% of votes cast in the governor’s race to get on the ballot. In North Dakota, petition organizers must collect signatures equal to 4% of the state’s population.
What I’m Reading This Week
- Extremism is No. 1 Issue for U.S. Senate candidate Kendra Horn: Horn’s first example of extremism is Oklahoma’s abortion laws, said to be the strictest in the country, and the positions of the state’s congressional delegation. [Tulsa World]
- U.S. Senate Runoff: Markwayne Mullin Campaign Reports Major Fundraising Haul: Mullin raised more than $162,000 for his Senate campaign in just the first two days of last week. Business executives, the president of the University of Oklahoma and political action committees were among the donors. [The Oklahoman]
- House Education Budget Chairman Calls for Federal Dollars to be Used on Teacher Relocation, Retention Bonuses: Rep. Mark McBride said he wants the state and local districts to “collaborate” to use remaining federal dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to offer $4,000 relocation bonuses to attract teachers from out of state and $5,000 bonuses for current public school teachers who remain here. [Tulsa World]
- Challenging Sen. Darcy Jech, Brady Butler Sees ‘No Place’ For Separation of Church and State: Butler says on his website that “the notion of ‘separation of church and state’ should have no place in the United States of America.” He argues that while the First Amendment allows anyone to worship how they choose, legislation needs to have a biblical basis. [NonDoc]
The Democracy Watch Newsletter is sponsored by:
Less than 90 days away from the Nov. 8 general election, the governor’s race is tightening, according to a poll released last week by Change Research.
Oklahoma needs high-quality investigative journalism. That is our mission at Oklahoma Watch. We produce stories that hold government and public officials accountable and that make transparent what some prefer to keep secret. We depend on financial support from readers like you to sustain our coverage. Help us make a difference.