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What lawmakers did and didn’t do for voters and election officials

A "vote here" sign marks the entrance to an early voting station in downtown Minneapolis in 2018.
Steve Karnowski
A "vote here" sign marks the entrance to an early voting station in downtown Minneapolis in 2018.

State lawmakers opted not to sweeping changes to Oklahoma’s voting laws, instead focusing on measures aimed at cracking down on threats or fraud ahead of the 2024 presidential election cycle.

As the Legislature’s 2023 session winded down Friday, here’s a look at how state lawmakers approached voting and election administration policy:

Senate Bill 481 classifies threatening, harassing, intimidating or doxing an election official as a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said the bill is necessary to protect officials recently targeted by individuals who falsely believe there is widespread voter fraud in Oklahoma.

Poll workers are also set to receive a significant pay bump. Senate Bill 290, which takes effect on July 1, 2024, raises the daily compensation for precinct judges and clerks from $100 to $200 per day. Inspectors, who act as the lead precinct official, will receive $225 per day when the measure takes effect next year.

“It is incredibly important that we recruit and retain poll workers as there has been a shortage in recent years,” bill sponsor Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, said in a statement on Thursday. “Increasing compensation is the least we can do for these dedicated community members who often work 12 to 14 hours on election day.”

House Bill 2052 forbids the state from joining any voter list maintenance group that requires outreach to eligible but unregistered voters. That would effectively bar the state from joining the Electronic Registration Information Center, an interstate cooperative that helps states identify duplicate registrations and out-of-state movers.

The Legislature authorized the organization in 2021, with lawmakers lauding the organization’s ability to help states keep their voter rolls clean and reach people who aren’t registered to vote. But cost and data privacy concerns, along with dissatisfaction with recent board-level decisions, have caused lawmakers and the state’s top election official to sour on partnering with the organization.

Most of the measures, including resolutions to mandate signature collection in all 77 counties and require questions raising state government expenditures to receive at least 60% approval to take effect, would have required approval from a majority of voters to take effect.

An exception was Senate Bill 518, which proposed implementing a $750 filing fee for initiative petitions and increasing the number of data points necessary to verify a signature. The measure cleared the Senate but failed to win approval in the House.

Keaton Ross is a Report for America corps member who covers democracy for Oklahoma Watch. Contact him at (405) 831-9753 or Kross@Oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter at @_KeatonRoss.