Oklahoma Gazette: Commentary
by Richard Prawdzienski
I was happy to discover that a major Oklahoma City newspaper agrees that Oklahoma election laws make it too tough for independent presidential candidates to get on the Oklahoma ballot and that they think ballot reform is needed.
In the past, many of our legislators didn't seem to agree and if our new guys follow in their tracks, come the 2008 election we will once again be the only state in the union to have only two Presidential candidates to choose from. 2008 isn't the only year of concern. Ever wonder how many candidates will our grandchild have to choice from in 2020 or 2048? Will they be forces to choose the lesser of two evils?
Previously when Oklahoma legislators were approached to free up the Oklahoma ballot access process, their attitude was that an open process would allow any old quack to run. Some said too many candidates on the ballot would confuse the voters. Most brushed the idea off, refused to look at the current draconian restrictions and made off the cuff remarks such as: "I had a third party candidate run in my district, he was a joke." "I agree the law is restrictive, but the party caucus won't accept change; our party will lose too many votes." "They will spoil the race." Etc, etc."
If Oklahoma voters want choices we must refuse to accept those arguments.
With term limits we have new blood. I wonder how the new guys will react to a request for change? Will they idlely-let leadership send the bill to the Rules Committee where it will die a quiet death or will they have honest public debate?
There was no debate in the past.
No one was given the floor to present evidence to refute the puny arguments. Too many candidates? Wait a minute: Oklahoma State Senate District 41 had eight nominees on the ballot in 2004. The voters in that district didn't seem confused.
Without debate citizens didn't learn that over half of the other states in the union had at least six names on their presidential ballot in 2004. Our neighbor, Colorado had 12. The voters in those states were not confused and their candidates were no quirkier than Oklahoma's primary nominees.
In a close race third party candidates are spoilers; maybe, but not likely. The third party candidate is more likely to bring out voters who otherwise would have stayed home.
In the past legislators told us that under current election laws anyone can run for a state office as an Independent. Unfortunately running as an Independent prevents the candidate from instantly projecting a party message. Even a high school student knows the importance of a party label. For example: Greens want to protect the environment; Libertarians want a small government; Socialist want organizations to have power over individuals. Democrats campaign for equal opportunities and the modern Republican stands for faith and family. In order for a party to develop a label, it needs to be recognized. When the state places extreme barriers to creating a party it prevents the building of the label and it takes away voters choice.
Past political party chairmen were no better than the legislators. Go to a forum where the party leaders speak and you would have quickly noticed the camaraderie between the two camps, the good-natured sparing. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that neither will walk over the other's spin. They use each other's spin like a jeweler uses gears in a Swiss watch.
Why then, would they ever welcome change? A third party could throw a monkey wrench into those gears and the wrench might cause sparks. Sparks might create fire. Fire might create light. Light lets us see things clearly.
Could it be that Oklahoma's two established political parties want to keep us in the dark?