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OBAR Press Release, March 3, 2005

No openness in the House, say ballot reformers

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

No openness in the House, say ballot reformers

Oklahoma City - After being told that ballot access reform legislation will not be heard in committee this legislative session, Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform says the new rules put in place at the State House aren't delivering openness and accountability as promised by House Speaker Todd Hiett.

House Bill 1429, which would lower the number of signatures necessary for an unrecognized party to get on the ballot, is assigned to the Rules Committee. Supporters of the bill were told by its author, Rep. Marian Cooksey (R-Edmond), that it would not be heard in committee. The office of Rep. Sue Tibbs (R-Tulsa), Chair of the Rules Committee, has confirmed that the bill will not be heard, but no reason is being given. The bill is identical to a bill introduced by Tibbs two years ago. Several members of the committee have already indicated they would support the bill, and Sen. Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso) agreed to sponsor the bill in the State Senate. OBAR members are finding it difficult to understand why the bill won't even be heard in committee, a necessary step for the measure to proceed to the House floor.

"Rep. Hiett took over as speaker and promised an open process," said OBAR spokesman James Branum. "HB 1429 has support inside and outside the Legislature. Someone is keeping this bill from proceeding, but there's no way for us to find out who or why. That's not an open process, and there's no accountability."

Current law requires an unrecognized party to petition for signatures of registered voters equal to 5% of the number of voters in the last presidential or gubernatorial election in order to get on the ballot.To participate in the 2006 elections, a party would need to gather more than 73,000 signatures. HB 1429 would change that to 5,000 signatures, the amount required until 1974. Surrounding states all have much lower signature requirements for ballot access, 1% of voters from the last election in Texas, 10,000 in Missouri, 5,000 in Kansas, and 1,000 in Arkansas. During the 2004 election, Oklahoma was the only state in the country limited to just two candidates for President.

If ballot access reform is not passed into law this legislative session, the issue may be taken out of the Legislature's hands. A lawsuit brought by the Oklahoma Libertarian Party is on appeal to the State Supreme Court. The Libertarians agreed to a stay in the case to give the Legislature the opportunity to act, but if HB 1429 is not even heard in committee the case will continue. Past litigation by the OKLP has resulted in easing restrictions on alternative parties at least four occasions.

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Press Conference will be held at the State Capital Press Room at noon, Thursday, March 3, 2005

For more information of this press release, contact James Branum @ 405-476-5620 or Chris Powell @ 640-8204