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Oklahoma Voters Lack Choices of Others The Daily Oklahoman
September 17, 1999
by Richard Winger

ON presidential election day in the United States, newspaper and television invariably show Americans casting their votes. The voting process seems the same coast to coast. Election day typically runs from 7 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m., in all states. Secrecy in the voting booth exists everywhere. Polling places are wheelchair-accessible all across the nation. Any registered voter is free to cast a vote and to choose among the same set of presidential candidates... Except in Oklahoma.

There is something diminished for Oklahoma voters. In the other 49 states, the voters are almost always free to vote for any serious presidential candidate at the November election. But Oklahomans do not enjoy that right to vote for any of the substantial presidential candidates.

In November 1996, there were seven presidential candidates with substantial campaigns:
- Bill Clinton, Democratic nominee, who received 47,402,357 votes.
- Bob Dole, Republican nominee, who received 39,198,755 votes.
- Ross Perot, Reform nominee, who received 8,085,402 votes.
- Ralph Nader, Green nominee, who received 685,040 votes.
- Harry Browne, Libertarian nominee, who received 485,798 votes.
- Howard Phillips, U.S. Taxpayers Party nominee, 184,658 votes.
- John Hagelin, Natural Law Party nominee, 113,668 votes.

Oklahoma voters were not able to vote for the candidates who placed fourth, sixth and seventh. No votes were cast in Oklahoma for Ralph Nader, Howard Phillips or John Hagelin, because Oklahoma procedures did not permit anyone to vote for them.

No other state prevented its voters from voting for as many as three of the seven leading presidential candidates in the November 1996 election.

Why the difference between Oklahoma and the other states? There are two reasons:

- Oklahoma ballot access laws are harsher for president than the laws of the other states. Minor party and independent presidential candidates need more signatures to get on the Oklahoma ballot (as a percentage of the number of registered voters), than any other state.

- Oklahoma is one of only seven states that doesn't permit write-in votes for president at general elections.

It is the combination of a harsh ballot access law, plus the ban on write-in voting, which sets Oklahoma apart. In 1996, Nader, Phillips and Hagelin couldn't overcome the requirement that they collect 41,711 signatures to be on the Oklahoma ballot. And because Oklahoma bans write-in votes, their supporters couldn't even cast a write-in for them.

Oklahoma ballot access laws traditionally have been difficult for minor party and independent presidential candidates. In November 1912, Oklahomans were the only American voters who couldn't vote for Theodore Roosevelt, presidential candidate of the Progressive "Bull Moose" Party. Roosevelt was on the ballot of the other 47 states, but he couldn't qualify in Oklahoma.

In November 1932, Socialist Party nominee Norman Thomas, at the peak of his popularity, was on the ballot in 43 of the 48 states, and received write-in votes in another three states, so the only Americans who couldn't vote for him were Oklahomans and Nevadans. In 1948, former vice president Henry Wallace, running as the Progressive Party nominee for president, was on the ballot in 45 of the 48 states, and he received write-ins in a third state; only in Oklahoma and Nebraska were voters unable tovote for him.

Ironically, Oklahoma election laws do not erect severe ballot access barriers for office other than president. Any independent candidate running for Congress, or state or county office, can get on the November ballot with no petition at all. He or she only needs to pay a filing fee, the same fee that Democratic and Republican candidates pay. Oklahoma ballot access laws could easily be amended to apply the same tolerant ballot access laws which now apply to candidates for other office, topresidential candidates. All it takes is action by the state Legislature.

State Rep. Bill Graves, R-Oklahoma City, introduced a bill, HB 1742, this year, to make it easier for minor parties to get on the ballot. It languished in the House Judiciary Committee. He is willing to re-introduce similar legislation next year. If you want to enjoy the same free choice in presidential elections that exists in other states, ask your state legislator to support ballot access reform next year.

Winger is editor of Ballot Access News in San Francisco.

We only get TWO choices?

Oklahoma voters were only TWO choices for President this year... Bush or Kerry.

How can this be?

As of election day 2004...

  • 49 states have Libertarian nominee Michael Badnarik on the ballot
  • 36 states have Independent/Reform candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot
  • 28 states have Green Party nomineee David Cobb on the ballot
  • 37 states have Constitution Party nominee Michael Peroutka on the ballot
  • 15 states have Socialist Workers Party nominee Roger Calero on the ballot
Yet, we don't get these choices in Oklahoma. Why?

It's not for lack of third party activity. Libertarians and Greens both have strong state-wide parties and numerous local chapters. Other national parties have members here in Oklahoma as well.

The problem is our election laws. Oklahoma has arguably the most undemocratic ballot access laws in America with petitioning requirements of 51,781 signatures to secure full party ballot access and 37,027 signatures to place a Presidential candidate.

Click here to find out how you can join the campaign for FAIR and DEMOCRATIC ballot acccess laws.