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Thursday, July 19th, 2018Last Update: Friday, June 1st, 2018 10:41:02 AM

Petition Drives Eye 2016 Ballot

By: Constitution Staff

A number of groups are seeking signatures in petition drives aimed at 2016. These include measures to place new political parties on the 2016 ballot, and initiatives to places proposals on the November 8, 2016 ballot to be decided by voters.

Ballot Access

On June 15, the Oklahoma Libertarian and Green parties launched an unprecedented, joint petitioning campaign for the 2016 election ballot. Party leaders held a news conference in the rotunda of the Oklahoma State Capitol building; thereafter, party leaders proceeded to the state election board office, to file their intentions. The Libertarian Party of Oklahoma is seeking state recognition for the first time since 2000, when Harry Browne was voters' last non-major-party option for U.S. president. Meanwhile, the Green Party of Oklahoma has never placed a party-label candidate on the ballot. Their closest attempt came in support of Ralph Nader in 2000; however, the drive moved the state's loose confederation of local chapters to unite as the first state Green Party of Oklahoma in 2004. Both parties now hope their newly formed alliance can take advantage of the state's lowest petition signature requirement since 1974.

Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Legislature passed H.B. 2181 which was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. The bill reduced the number of signatures required to gain ballot access, but did not return the number to the original 5,000 required before the law was changed in 1974. Since 1974, parties seeking ballot status needed the signatures of registered voters equal to 5% of the votes cast for governor or president in the last general election. Beginning November 1, the number drops to 3% of the last vote for governor, excluding the presidential vote from the calculation. To get on the ballot for 2016, petitioners need 24,745 under the new law. Experienced petitioners usually aim for double the required number to compensate for invalid signatures. While the two parties are working together, each party petition must gather the state's required number of signatures by March 1, 2016 to become ballot-qualified. Party leaders believe that, by working together, they can attract and coordinate enough petitioners to ensure that Oklahomans get their first alternative-party options since 2000.

A media release from the Oklahoma Libertarian Party explained the stategy: "By actively petitioning for both parties simultaneously we say to the world that while our two parties may differ in terms of political ideology, we are not afraid for those ideologies to compete in a fair and honest marketplace. On the contrary, we welcome the opportunity with the knowledge that such exchanges can only make each other and our state stronger." The Green Party of Oklahoma expanded on the effort: "While Green and Libertarian positions on multiple issues vary widely, we also share valuable common ground. Our alliance with the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma in this ballot access petitioning effort sets the example of the kind of nonpartisan cooperation we would like to see more of in our local and national government. Getting both parties on the ballot in Oklahoma insures more views and voices are counted, and that all Oklahoma voters see their interests represented on the ballot. This is a fundamental goal on which we all agree true democracy depends. We are excited to work together for this cause."

Oklahoma has a closed primary elections with an option for parties to choose to open them to Independent voters. Since this became law, neither the Republican nor Democratic parties had made that choice. Representatives from both the Oklahoma Libertarian and Green parties have said that they will allow Independents to vote in any primaries they may have in the coming election. If the party petitions for the Libertarian and Green parties are successful, then Independents will have three primaries to choose from. Earlier this year, Democrats recently voted at their State Convention to allow Independents to vote in Democratic primaries over the next two years. Meanwhile, the Republican Party maintains that party nominees for the various offices should be selected by those registered as a member of the party and not by voters who are not Republicans.

Education Initiative

In September, University of Oklahoma President David Boren announced that he was spearheading a coalition of business and civic leaders that will push a statewide initiative petition for a one cent sales tax increase for education. The current state sales tax rate in Oklahoma is 4.5 percent, with additional sales taxes imposed by local governments. Boren and other civic leaders have formed Oklahoma's Children -- Our Future with the goal of collecting enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot.

It is estimated that the proposed tax increase would raise approximately $615 million per year. Based on that amount, $378 million would be used to fund an increase of approximately $5,000 per year in teacher salaries. An additional fund of $50 million would be used for grants for locally controlled reforms such as incentive pay or reading programs. Approximately $125 million would go to higher education to hold down the cost of college tuition and fees. Another $50 million would go for early childhood programs, and $12.5 million for the state vo-tech system.

"Teacher salaries average $44,373 in Oklahoma, far below those in every one of the surrounding states. Texas is more than $5,000 ahead of us. We rank 49th of all 50 states in the amount the state spends per pupil," said Boren in an email release. He also said that college tuition and fees have had to be raised as the state's share of support for OU and Oklahoma State University has dropped from 52 percent in the 1970s to 34 percent in the 1990s to 16 percent now.

Petitioners would have 90 days to collect the required number of signatures. For an initiative petition not requiring a constitutional change, petitioners must gather signatures totaling 8 percent of the number of votes cast in the last general election. Since 824,831 people voted for governor in 2014, the number of valid signatures required would be 65,987 for a vote to make a change in statute. If Boren's coalition chose to pursue a constitutional change, the number of signatures needed would climb to 123,725. A statutory change could be repealed by the Legislature, while amending the state constitution would make it harder for future legislatures to repeal the tax.

Boren and other education leaders have been frustrated at the inability to get the Legislature to increase taxes. A bill raising taxes would have to be passed by the Legislature and would also likely require a public vote due to State Question 640 which amended the constitution in 1992. That change requires a revenue-increasing bill to receive a supermajority support of three-fourths of both bodies of the Legislature, or it must be placed on the ballot for vote of the people. The supermajority requirement has prevented state tax increases since its inception.

Oklahoma state government receives a substantial amount of its revenue from sales taxes. For the 2015 Fiscal Year which ended on June 30, Oklahoma collected $9.78 billion in tax revenue. Of that, $3.64 billion came from income taxes, and $2.69 billion came from the state's portion of sales and use taxes.

Medical Marijuana Petition

On August 21, Green the Vote, a grassroots organization based in Tulsa filed a ballot initiative with the Oklahoma Secretary of State to collect signatures to place medical cannabis (aka medical marijuana) on the November 8, 2016 general election ballot as State Question 778. A similar effort by Oklahomans for Health last year fell significantly short of the number of signatures needed. Isaac Caviness, president of Green the Vote, said the two groups are different but their petitions were similar.

The proposed constitutional amendment would classify marijuana as a herbal drug to be regulated by the Oklahoma State Department of Health. If the signature collection effort is successful this year and the initiative is approved by state voters in 2016, the initiative would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to allow persons in Oklahoma to legally use, possess and cultivate cannabis for their medical needs with the recommendation of their personal physician. It would also allow medical cannabis dispensaries for the sale of medical cannabis and cannabis infused/related products. According to the group, the medical cannabis would be regulated and have a tax of 7 percent on the sales. The taxes collected would be used to fund the state regulatory office first and any excess taxes would be distributed with 75 percent going to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, and 25 percent allocated to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. It would also allow for local municipalities to levee additional taxes on medical marijuana to build and repair roads.

Following the end of the protest period, Secretary of State Chris Benge notified supporters that no protests had been filed and gave them the green light to begin circulating the petition. Supporters need 123,725 valid signatures of registered voters for the question to be placed on the ballot. Green the Vote president Isaac Caviness said the group plans to gather over 200,000 signatures to provide a safety margin. Supporters of an initiative began gathering signatures on October 1 and will have will have until 5 P.M. on. December 29 to file the signatures.

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