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Saturday, May 27th, 2017Last Update: Thursday, May 4th, 2017 02:03:55 PM

Libertarian Party to Be on Ballot in Oklahoma

By: Constitution Staff

On March 21, the Oklahoma State Election Board announced that a sufficient number of signatures collected by the Oklahoma Libertarian Party on their petition for a place on the ballot were valid. Therefore, candidates will be allowed to appear on the state's November ballot as Libertarians. It will be the first time since 2000 that a non-major party has appeared on the Oklahoma ballot for U.S. president. In that year, Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne was the party nominee.

Meanwhile, the Green Party of Oklahoma failed in their petition effort. The party has never placed a party-label candidate on the ballot in Oklahoma. Their closest attempt came in support of Ralph Nader in 2000.

Both parties sought to take advantage of the state's lowest petition signature requirement since 1974. Last year, the Oklahoma Legislature passed House Bill 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.

The new law which went into effect last November, dropped the number to 3% of the last vote for governor, excluding the presidential vote from the calculation. To get on the ballot for 2016, petitioners needed 24,745 under the new law. Experienced petitioners usually aim for double the required number to compensate for invalid signatures.

On February 22, the Libertarians delivered four boxes of petitions. The Election Board found that 30,517 of the 42,182 signatures that Libertarians turned in were valid. The petition efforts cost the national party around $104,000. "Thanks to the hard work of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party and the signatures of over 42,000 Oklahomans, every voter in the state will be able to vote this year for a Libertarian, identified with the party label, for the first time in 16 years," said Nicholas Sarwark, Chair of the Libertarian National Committee. "Every American deserves a Libertarian choice on their ballot, and the Libertarian Party is committed to making sure every American has that choice this election year."

The Green Party of Oklahoma was unable to meet the required signature goal. Rachel Jackson, state facilitator for the Green Party Cooperative Council, with her hands tied in protest, handed Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax the party's small stack of petitions on February 29. The petition sheets contained only about 500 signatures. "Our hands are tied," said Jackson, "The current ballot access laws not only keep us off the ballot, they prevent us from building a party by making it impossible to register voters as Greens and run candidates. While last year's reform measure was a great improvement, the law remains an unjust burden for fledgling new political parties in the state." The party said it wanted its petitions to be on record to exemplify the continued exclusion of alternative political parties from the democratic process in Oklahoma. The group claims it purposely collected a low number of signatures to highlight the need for further reform. Oklahoma requires the highest number of signatures of registered voters, per capita, in the nation to get a new political party on the ballot.

"Oklahoma Libertarians are excited by the prospect of seeing candidates on the ballot that represent us politically," said Oklahoma Libertarian Party Vice Chair Tina Kelly. "For the most part we don't agree with the direction the old parties have been taking our state and our country. This year there will be principled liberty options to cast votes for, and I expect the electorate to be inspired by that and to re-engage in a big way."

First-time voters must register in the Libertarian Party or as Independents by June 3 to vote in the June 28th Libertarian primary. The Libertarian Party decided to allow Independents to participate in their primary elections. Oklahoma has a closed primary elections with an option for parties to choose to open them to Independent voters. Last year, Democrats voted at their State Convention to allow Independents to vote in Democratic primaries over the next two years and Independents were allowed to vote in the March 1, Democratic Party presidential primary. 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.

To remain an official political party in Oklahoma, the Libertarian Party must have its presidential candidate receive 10 percent of the vote in the November election. A bill is pending, which has passed in the state senate, to reduce that requirement. Senate Bill 896 by Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) would lower that threshold to 2.5 percent. The bill passed the Oklahoma State Senate by a vote of 42-1 on March 10, 2016. The House Elections and Ethics Committee amended the bill slightly, moving its effective date from January 1, 2017, to November 1, 2016. If the bill is approved by the House as a whole, it will return to the Senate for a vote.

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