House Elections Committee Approves Bill On State Question Recounts, Rejects Several On Voter Access

Feb 9, 2021

Updated Feb. 10, 12:15 p.m.

The Oklahoma House Elections and Ethics Committee advanced a bill to require recounts on State Questions in certain situations.

"If it was just a statutory change, if the elections fell within 0.5%; if it was a constitutional change, it would be if the election results fell within 1% of the total margin; or if it was requested by the attorney general, the governor or the secretary of the election board," Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid) said while explaining House Bill 2564 to the committee.

Caldwell said those thresholds have been met on just two state questions in the past 30 years. The most recent was State Question 802, which amended the state constitution to expand Medicaid. It passed by a margin of less than 1%.

State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax told the committee a statewide recount on SQ802 would have cost county election boards around $181,000, while increased turnout in November would have pushed the cost of a recount on State Question 805 to $330,000. SQ805 sought to end the use of sentence enhancements for nonviolent felonies.

Caldwell's bill did not include a mechanism for covering the cost of a recount.

The elections and ethics committee also advanced bills Tuesday to require county election board to purge names of dead voters within 30 days of receiving a list from the state and to let visually impaired voters receive their ballots electronically.

House Democrats had little success with a slate of bills aimed at expanding voting access or making the process easier. The Republican-controlled elections committee voted down most of their bills, including ones to require colleges and universities to make a full-time staff member available to notarize staff and students' absentee ballots, to allow voters to request absentee ballots for an extended period rather than just a calendar year at a time, and to add in-person early voting locations in large or populated counties.

Opponents of those bills expressed concerns about the costs to implement them.

Rep. Meloyde Blancett (D-Tulsa) was able to rescue House Bill 1812, which would establish two weeks of early, in-person voting for state and federal elections. She volunteered to hold back the bill for changes that might make it more palatable to the committee.

Blancett said overall, young voter turnout is too low.

"In the big elections, it’s not so much of an issue, but in the smaller elections, unfortunately, they are not as diligent as perhaps maybe our older voters are. And I’d like to get everyone more involved in the electorate process," Blancett said.

Rep. Andy Fugate (D-Del City) was the only Democrat to get a bill out of the elections committee on Tuesday. House Bill 1843 would let people cast a provisional, in-person ballot if their absentee ballot isn’t received by Election Day or if they received notice it was rejected.

The committee rejected another bill by Fugate. House Bill 1844 would make it so if one party had two candidates for office and the other party had none, the candidates would be put on the general election ballot rather than a closed primary. If one party had more than two candidates for an office while the other party had none, the top two in the primary would go to the general election ballot.

Correction: This story originally said absentee ballots could be requested only for the next election.