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Smaller Groups Hope to Improve their Poll Position
The Sunday Oklahoman
Sun., September 2, 2007
John Greiner, Capitol Bureau

Leaders of lesser-known political parties believe they could get a foothold on making changes in Oklahoma government if it were easier for their parties to receive official recognition. The leaders make up a coalition planning to file an initiative petition to change Oklahoma law so their parties can more easily get on the Oklahoma election ballot.

Getting more political parties on the ballot will give Oklahoma voters more choices, they say. Right now, a political party seeking to form in Oklahoma must obtain registered voters' signatures equal to 5 percent of the total vote in the last general election.

That would be 43,324 signatures, and the political parties would have to get 10 percent of the vote in the next general election to remain recognized.

"We spend all of our time and money trying to get on the ballot,” said Johnny Cook, chairman of the Libertarian Party in Oklahoma. "By the time we get on the ballot, people running already have been building campaigns and establishing themselves as candidates.”

The lesser-known party candidates never really get to build name recognition under that system, he said.

"So, when you get on the ballot, no one knows who you are,” said Cook, of Claremore.

What the coalition wants
The coalition wants to change the law to require just 5,000 signatures for recognition and ballot access for the lesser-known political parties, which often are referred to as third parties. The coalition also wants the parties to retain official recognition if they get 1 percent of the vote.

Besides the Libertarian Party, the coalition includes The Oklahoma Constitution Party, the Oklahoma Green Party and independents, who are not affiliated with a political party.

The proposed state question would return the law to the way it was from 1924 to 1974.

Matthew Jones, an independent from Stillwater and chairman of the coalition, said Oklahoma voters are ready for more choices.

Often, only candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties are on the ballot in most races, he said.

Michael Hammer, a Stillwater independent and spokesman for the coalition, said, "I think the time is not too far in the future where you will have third party or independents in the Oklahoma Legislature.”

Thom Holmes, who lives near Chandler and is chairman of the Oklahoma Constitution Party, said being able to get his and other lesser-known parties' candidates on the Oklahoma ballot will create more competition.

"One of the things that makes America great is we have competition in our business dealings,” he said. "We have very little competition on the political side of things.”

There are certain districts in Oklahoma that are Republican and certain ones that are Democrat. If a Republican wins the primary in a Republican district, he's going to be the person who is elected, Holmes said. The same is true for Democrats, he said.

Joni LeViness of Tulsa, an Oklahoma delegate to the national Green Party convention, said allowing more political parties and their candidates on the state's election ballot might give people some kind of hope and interest in politics again.

Fewer and fewer people are voting, she said. She believes people would start hearing issues that actually applied to regular people if other parties could get on the ballot.

Third political parties have fared poorly in Oklahoma and the nation, but they've had some influence on the major political parties, a political science professor from Oklahoma State University said.

To keep from losing some of their supporters to third parties, the major parties sometimes have taken positions that the third parties were advocating, said Jim Davis, associate professor of American and Applied Politics at OSU.

The Republican Party adopted the "law and order” position from the American Party whose candidate in 1968 was Alabama Gov. George Wallace, he said.