By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Supreme Court might rebuff a Tulsa lawyer’s request for a temporary restraining order intended to regain a ballot line for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee.
Chief Justice Steven Taylor and his colleagues might be right, legally, if they turn that cold shoulder. But such a result will renew concern over our restrictive political process.
In arguments to Supreme Court Referee Barbara Swimley, Attorney James Linger last week hoped to reverse the Election Board’s spike of the Americans Elect party’s line for Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson and his running-mate James P. Gray.
Johnson and Gray are on the ballot in 49 states and the District of Columbia – either as Libertarians or independents. This summer, at a small convention for Oklahoma’s Americans Elect party, the party’s electors were designated for Johnson-Gray.
That meeting took place even as national leadership abandoned efforts “in all states in which Americans Elect has obtained a ballot access line.”
In a September 5 appearance before Swimley, Linger contended passionately to preserve what was granted in March, after a successful petition drive secured party status for Americans Elect. Linger asserts the line can only be taken away after an election — if the party’s presidential candidates get less than 10 percent support in November.
Assistant Attorney General Leader, arguing for the state, reasoned that this case’s specifics – national rules and procedures, and a promise that electors support the nominees of the national party – mean that there now is no national Americans Elect party, and therefore no need for state Electors.
The Court will move quickly to assure that overseas voters, especially American soldiers, get to vote.
Despite the present urgency, this argument is nothing new.
Two years ago this week, four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader came to Oklahoma to push reform, telling an enthusiastic crowd that independent party candidates “have to climb the equivalent of Mount Everest to get on the ballot” in the Sooner State. He flatly described Oklahoma as being “the worst [state] in the country” for access.
Oklahoma Libertarians are frustrated over facing a third straight election without a presidential option.
In 2011, State Rep. Charles Key, an Oklahoma City Republican, led a serious push to make ballot access rules less onerous. That proposal passed the state House but died in the Senate Rules Committee.
The Americans Elect effort to provide an alternative in the November election began with hoopla last year, and peaked this spring when University of Oklahoma President David Boren joined triumphant activists to present more than 89,062 signatures seeking ballot status, which was granted at the end of March when an impressive 64,424 names were found valid.
But national officials maneuvered this summer to kill Americans Elect efforts, all over the nation.
Opposing the arguments of state officials, an affidavit from Richard Winger of Ballot Access News pointed out that absentee ballots don’t have to go into the mail until September 22 – but now, that is less than two weeks away.
In last week’s presentation to the referee, Linger argued the state could continue with absentee ballot preparation but wait to close the in-person ballots. He even suggested the Court could mandate that the state allow write-in voting, as a partial remedy.
Leader, arguing for the state, reasoned that national Americans’ Elect rules procedures, and the Electors’ oath to support nominees of the national party,– lead to the conclusion that there is no Americans Elect party in Oklahoma. Leader says the remedies Linger seeks are without merit.
Leader is the Election Board’s legal counsel. In late August, he said the board should pull the ballot line. Attorney Linger and journalist Winger counter that state parties have prevailed in such disagreements over ballot access for most of American history.
Leader’s analysis may persuade the justices, but the controversy illustrates anew how desperately our state needs to revise its laws. Even if not illegal, as a practical matter the state’s unique status in this matter seems ill-advised.
No matter how the present litigation turns out, Oklahoma continues to earn its dubious reputation as the most restrictive state in America for third party candidates or parties.
The Oklahoma Legislature should carefully reexamine the state’s darn-near-impossible budget access provisions. As a matter of justice, the “safety valve” aspects of third parties should be allowed to have at least some chance of success in function here, as is the case in every other state.