By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — Today, May 4, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down state procedures requiring notarization for absentee ballots. A majority of the court cited the global pandemic in reaching its decision. The majority directed Oklahoma state Election Board secretary to allow voters to self-notarize ballots for the June and November election.
The case that led to the ruling was filed by the League of Women Voters and two Oklahoma individuals, one a cancer survivor with a compromised immune system and one an emergency room advanced practice nurse practitioner.
The case was brought after the Election Board Secretary submitted that he was unable to use his existing authority to allow voters to self-notarize their ballots under the penalty of perjury.
The Court ruled for self-notarizing during the pandemic, arguing anyone who abuses that option could face a perjury charge.
“I am very grateful to the Supreme Court,” said Peggy Winton, a cancer survivor with a compromised immune system. “This is a victory for every Oklahoma voter who wants to exercise the right to vote but not risk their lives to do so.
“I joined the lawsuit because I believed this was a simple change that will save lives. Today the Court’s ruling will allow Oklahomans with compromised immune systems like me to vote safely without having to leave our homes for an unnecessary notarization that does nothing to protect the integrity of the vote.”
The lawsuit was filed after a coalition of Oklahoma healthcare and civil rights advocacy organizations sent the Oklahoma Election Board secretary a letter asking him to amend ballot instructions to make clear that voters could self-notarize their ballot under penalty of perjury.
“This decision is so vital to ensuring that Oklahomans won’t have to risk their health to exercise their right to vote,” said Amy Curran with Generation Citizen, an action civics organization dedicated to teaching Oklahoma students the importance of voting. “We couldn’t be more excited about today’s ruling and know it will mean more Oklahomans will feel safe as they exercise their right to vote this Election Year.”
According to the Oklahoma State Election Board website, any registered voter in Oklahoma may vote by absentee ballot. It is not necessary to give a reason for voting absentee
Currently, 27 states have no-excuse absentee ballots, five states allow citizens to submit absentee ballot applications online, and seven states offer permanent mail voting.
With no excuse absentee ballots, any registered voters who submit an absentee ballot application will receive one without having to give an explanation. Voters can also ask to participate in permanent mail voting on their first absentee ballot application and receive ballots by mail for all subsequent elections until they decide to stop.
“This was an easy fix and that could have been done with a stroke of a pen by the Election Board Secretary, but we are grateful for the Supreme Court doing the right thing with their ruling today,” said Jane Nelson, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Nurses Association, and member of the Oklahoma voter protection coalition. “
This will undoubtedly protect Oklahomans from this highly-contagious coronavirus during this Election Year,” Nelson said.
Three states—Colorado, Oregon, Washington—have been mailing ballots to every registered voter for years.
“Considering the history of voter fraud, the specifics of our absentee voter process and recent legislative history, I agree … that it would be absurd to now open the gates and provide for no verification for absentee ballots but still require in-person voters to provide a valid I.D.,” said Oklahoma state Supreme Court Justice Dustin Rowe, dissenting from the controversial decision.
Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director of the ACLU Oklahoma stated, “Barriers to absentee voting disproportionately hurt Oklahomans who are already in marginalized communities, as well as those with compromised immune systems, and senior citizens.
“Today’s ruling allows Oklahomans wishing to cast an absentee ballot the opportunity to do so safely and securely,” Kiesel added. “The Court’s order upholding the legal rights of Oklahoma voters represents a tremendous step forward and we must continue to do everything possible to let Oklahomans vote safely and securely without compromising their health.”
Oklahoma is one of just three states – along with Mississippi and Missouri — that requires a notary or official witness signature. Other states use methods such as signature verification.
Patrick B. McGuigan, Founder of CapitolBeatOK and Publisher, The City Sentinel stated, “Absentee ballots are legal. They have been legal for decades. Removing the requirement for a legal affirmation of identity for an absentee ballot has no basis in prior Oklahoma law. An absentee ballot is a legal document, just like a will or other documents requiring a legal witness. Disagreeing with the court in this instance is not about absentee ballots, per se, it is about a court (any court) removing a long-standing legal requirement that is in place for specific reasons rooted in history and in law.”
To request an absentee ballot online, click here.