Oklahoma Supreme Court Hears Sentencing Reform Advocates Request to Accept Petition Signatures

May 16, 2020

The Yes on 805 campaign on Friday presented its case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in a request to force the Secretary of State’s office to accept signatures to put a sentencing reform state question on the ballot.

The campaign filed a writ of mandamus last week asking the court to require its signatures be accepted in time to place State Question 805 on a 2020 ballot.

Campaign officials said they have asked to make an in-person appointment or turn in signatures via mail using all recommended safety precautions, but have been refused by the Secretary of State’s office on both counts.

The Secretary of State’s office has said it cannot accept the signatures because of a March 18 order, which paused the circulation period for initiative petitions until Gov. Kevin Stitt's coronavirus emergency declaration is lifted. The campaign argues state law would allow for them to turn in signatures prior to the end of a circulation period.

“We appreciate the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s consideration of our case and hope the Secretary of State will take quick action to accept our signatures for review,” Yes on 805 President Sarah Edwards said in a statement. “We understand the necessary precautions that we as Oklahomans must continue to take in this unprecedented time, but if other businesses across the state have been granted permission to reopen, surely the Secretary of State can open to permit a quick and safe delivery of signatures to honor the constitutional ballot initiative process."

State Question 805 would end the use of sentence penalties, which can be used to add time to a sentence if the person has served time in the past for nonviolent offenses.

Oklahomans spend longer in prison for low-level, nonviolent offenses than people in other states — nearly 70% longer for property crimes and 79% longer for drug crimes.

Campaign activities have been on hold since March 16 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With days left in the 90-day circulation period, more than 260,000 Oklahomans have signed the petition in favor of placing the criminal justice reform on a 2020 ballot.

The campaign needs 177,958 signatures to qualify for the ballot.