Capitol Watch: Oklahoma Lawmakers Begin Voting, Nominating Election

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Proposed laws to change how and when Oklahomans can vote — or register to vote — are beginning to make their way through the Legislature.

A handful of election-related bills have already passed in committee. Some far-reaching proposals are to be heard this week.

As part of Oklahoma Watch renewed focus on democracy, I wrote about the more than 75 ballot or election bills (and included a searchable chart of those bills) introduced before the session. Here is an overview of the position of some of them.

Voter identification and federal “overrun”

A Republican-led proposal asking voters to add a voter ID requirement to the state constitution advance.

The Senate Rules Committee advanced it to the Senate on a 13-0 vote.

Oklahomans spent a question of state in 2010, adding a legal requirement for voters to provide identification, making Oklahoma one of 35 states with a voter identification law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But Oklahoma’s law is less strict than others. It allows voters with ID to request a provisional ballot and prove their identity by signing an affidavit. Their ballot must be verified later by election workers.

Elevating the state voter ID requirement to a constitutional provision could give lawmakers more authority to make other changes, including making state law stricter. Constitutional status could safeguard the requirement, which has already been the the subject of a single lawsuitfuture 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 should Congress pass federal voting legislation.

Another bill also aimed at protecting the state from changes to federal election laws was passed by a House committee last week.

House Bill 3232 states that if the federal government passes laws that violate Oklahoma’s election law, those laws would only be followed in federal elections held separately.

The proposal, which would cost at least $1 million to $1.5 million per election, passed by a 5-2 vote with Democrats in opposition.

Restoration of voting rights

Democrats saw one of their legislative priorities take a hit when a House committee refused to introduce a proposal to make it easier and faster to restore voting rights to ex-felons.

the proposal Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, reportedly clarified when someone convicted of a crime can register to vote. She said it was necessary because there has been “some controversy” over when ex-felons, who have had sentences commuted or released, can register.

After some discussion, the House Elections and Ethics Committee rejected it by a 4-3 vote.

“I was just trying to provide clarity and set some parameters so that when people have been incarcerated, they know when their right to vote has been restored,” Goodwin said immediately after the vote. “I think we’ve made it way too complicated, and it’s one of those bills where if we can’t get bipartisan support, God help us.”

Another Democratic-led proposal did not advance out of committee. A invoice from Rep. Merleyn Bell, D-Norman would require all higher education institutions in the state to provide at least one full-time staff member to notarize ballots during designated mail-in voting periods.

Although it was costless, it did not move forward after no other lawmakers agreed to “second” a motion to put it to a vote.

On this week’s program

One of the more ambitious ballot proposals is scheduled for a first hearing this week.

Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, has author a measure requiring all voters in the state to re-register after 2023. Oklahomans would also have to provide proof of U.S. citizenship, Oklahoma residency and other identification to regain their right to vote.

The bill will be heard at the House Elections and Ethics Committee meeting scheduled for noon Thursday in Room 5S2 of the State Capitol.

What do you think of these proposals? What other election-related changes would you like to see? Do you have questions you want answered? If so, email me at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.

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