With the 2012 election looming in the near future, Oklahomans are asking themselves, "Why do I only have two choices for president on my ballot when my friends in other states have more?"
Oklahoma's ballot in 2012 only features President Barack Obama of the Democratic Party and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney of the Republican Party. In fact, Oklahoma is the only state to feature no third party candidates on its 2004, 2008, and 2012 ballots. No state has gone three consecutive years with only the Democratic and Republican candidates on their ballot since 1956-1964. Oklahoma is also one of only seven states that do not allow write ins.
As an illustration of the problem, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson will be featured on every state ballot this election except for Michigan and Oklahoma. However, Michigan has affirmed Gary Johnson as a declared write in candidate.
The requirements in Oklahoma for recognition of a party not appearing on the ballot in the previous election are that a petition be filed with the Secretary of the State Election Board bearing the signatures of registered voters equal to at least five percent (5%) of the total votes cast in the last general election either for governor or for electors for president and vice president. Each page of such petitions must contain the names of registered voters from a single county. Petitions may be circulated a maximum of one year after notice is filed, provided that petitions shall be filed with such secretary no later than May 1 of an even numbered year. Such petitions shall not be circulated between May 1 and November 15 of any even numbered year.
Many have criticized Oklahoma as having the most stringent ballot laws in the nation, as they also include closed primaries. This means that only voters who are registered members of a recognized political party may vote for the party's candidates in primary and runoff primary elections. The only political parties currently recognized in Oklahoma are the Democratic and Republican parties, though voters may also register as independent.
Oklahomans almost had third party candidate Gary Johnson on their ballot this election despite these legal barriers. The Americans Elect party gained ballot access in March after a successful petition campaign with several high profile supporters, including University of Oklahoma President David Boren. However, the Oklahoma State Election Board removed Johnson from the ballot in August at the advice of the state Attorney General's Office.
Assistant Attorney General Neal Leader advised the Oklahoma State Election Board that it “should not place the Americans Elect Party president and vice-presidential candidates or presidential electors on the November 2012 general election ballot in Oklahoma.”
Richard Winger, editor of national ballot access publication Ballot Access News, said the assistant attorney general’s written instruction “contains no references to any court cases to justify his opinion.” Winger also contends the Oklahoma State Election Board and assistant attorney general “have acted in a deceitful manner.”
Oklahomans have sought change for quite some time through organizations such as Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform, but new efforts are taking full advantage of internet resources such as Change.org and social media sites to build national and state awareness.
Signatures are being sought nationwide for the petition "State of Oklahoma: Allow third party candidates for President on the Oklahoma ballot." The goal of the petition is to raise public awareness nationwide of the limitations imposed on Oklahoma voters, and to rally support for change within Oklahoma itself. The signature goal is 50,000.
There is also a Facebook page dedicated to providing news on the effort and networking opportunities for ballot access proponents called Americans United for Oklahoma Ballot Access Reform.
It is too late for this effort to bear fruit before the 2012 election, but by starting now the organizers hope to capitalize on national election interest to build awareness of the plight of Oklahoma voters. Some of the comments left by petition signers are very illustrative:
"Voters at least need a 3rd option to keep the main two honest." — David Norton of Tulsa, Oklahoma
"We need open-minded people that make decisions not by party line but by what is right for America and it's people." — Patsy Dickey of Tulsa, Oklahoma
"The choices we have are poor and not representative of my views. I currently have no voice in our political process." — Steven Wooley of Chelsea, Oklahoma