Oklahoma House Advances Bill to Reinstitute Notarization Requirement for Absentee Ballots

May 6, 2020

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Two days after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a requirement that absentee ballots be notarized, House Republicans pushed through a bill to reinstitute it.

Given the point in the legislative session, Republican lawmakers needed a procedural trick to get the bill on the floor. Rep. Chris Kannady (R-Oklahoma City) authored an amendment to Senate Bill 210, which originally dealt with state agencies entering contracts with private entities. It had passed the Senate and a House subcommittee but had not come up for a floor vote.

Kannady said if allowed to stand, the court’s ruling would put Oklahoma among a small minority of states not asking for absentee voters to verify their identities.

"Which, as we all know, given what’s happened the past few weeks with unemployment, when you make things extremely easy, it invites fraud," Kannady said.

Kannady said another lawmaker told him after the court’s decision Monday, a precinct in his area got dozens more requests for absentee ballots.

"I don’t know if that’s because they were going to go in and defraud the voters, but I don’t want to give them the opportunity," Kannady said.

Rep. Forrest Bennett (D-Oklahoma City) pushed Kannady on that statement.

"Is your faith in the people of Oklahoma so lacking that you … you don’t give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re requesting absentee ballots because they’re concerned about going out into public and contracting this virus?" Bennett said.

"There is a percentage, however small it may be, that want to defraud the system. That is abundantly clear," Kannady said in his response.

SB210 allows voters to attach a photocopy of their state ID or voter registration card to their absentee ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic instead of having it notarized. Rep. Collin Walke (D-Oklahoma City) said that creates potential technical issues.

"Instead of submitting my photo copy of my voter registration, I just submit. y actual voter registration card. Is that now a valid absentee ballot or not? Because it doesn’t comply with the statute," Walke said.

Several Republican lawmakers made claims during Wednesday's floor proceedings that voter fraud is widespread in Oklahoma. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, lists five cases since 2012 that resulted in convictions, two of which involved absentee ballots.

A report by the State Election Board on voter fraud during the 2016 general election came up with 18 potential cases, according to a report by The Frontier. All were referred to local district attorneys for prosecution.

Illegal voting is a felony offense in Oklahoma and is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

All House Democrats and three Republicans voted against the bill, which now goes to the Senate.