Oklahoma is one of 24 states that have an initiative petition process. It allows citizens to bypass the legislature by collecting signatures from registered voters and get issues on the ballot. The number of signatures required is tied to the total number of votes cast in the gubernatorial elections. Currently 177,958 signatures are required to get a state question on the ballot that would amend the state constitution, 94,911 for one that would place a new statute on the books.
The signatures must be collected in a 90 day period. Another way a state question gets on the ballot is if the state legislature (both chambers) passes a ‘joint resolution.’
Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando (House Deputy Floor Leader), and Sen. Kim David, R-Porter (Senate Majority Floor Leader), have introduced House Joint Resolution 1027.
H.J.R. 1027, if passed by the House and Senate, sends to a vote of the people a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, if approved, will change the percentage of legal voters required to propose an initiative or referendum petition from statewide to every congressional district of the state. H.J.R. 1027 would require 8% of all registered voters in the 5 congressional districts to sign an initiative petition. H.J.R. 1027 passed the Rules committee 6-1 on February 22 with one Democrat voting no.
First, H.J.R. 1027 appears to be favored by legislative leadership. Sen. David is the second ranking Republican in the Senate and Rep. Pfeiffer in House leadership.
The idea to mess with the initiative petition process comes after several successful signature drives by groups pushing liberal ideas. Increasing the number of signatures seems to be legislative leadership’s solution.
Details on the specifics are sketchy, but changing the process to require voters in every congressional district sign the initiative petitions is to make it more difficult to get the necessary signatures.
Under the current system, the signatures can be gained by hitting the OKC and Tulsa metro areas and ignoring rural areas.
“I worry more about my voters in rural Oklahoma being disenfranchised and not even intentionally. It’s just the path of least resistance. If you have to collect a certain number of signatures, you’re going to do it in the metro areas. You’re not even going to ask people in rural Oklahoma because you don’t have to,” Pfeiffer says.
Second, making it more difficult for citizens to get an issue on the ballot hurts every political group or ideology- liberals and conservatives alike. State Question 640 would not be part of the state constitution if these requirements for signatures would have been in place. It was passed in March 1992 and while detested by many legislators. it has literally saved Oklahoma taxpayers billions of dollars by requiring a 75 percent majority in the legislature to pass increases in taxes and fees.
Third, legislators should leave well enough alone. The key to good government is educating citizens/voters, not restricting them. While the current system may result in liberal issues getting on the ballot, the answer is educating voters on the issue. Regulating and restricting liberty for one group restricts every Oklahoman. Contact your legislator and tell them to vote no on H.J.R. 1027.
Steve Fair is Chairman of the 4th district of the Oklahoma Republican Party. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. His blog is stevefair.blogspot.com. His commentaries often appear at the CapitolBeatOK.com website.