State Lawmakers File Ballot Measure Reform Bills
By Brendan Hoover
Proposed legislation would bar foreign principals from contributing to state or local ballot measure campaigns, extend the petition signature gathering period.
January 17, 2024
With the start of the 2024 legislative session looming, two state senators have filed bills that would reform Oklahoma’s ballot measure process.
Senator David Bullard (R-Durant) filed SB 1769 on January 17, which would ban foreign principals from making contributions to ballot measure committees and candidate campaigns.
In 2021, the Federal Election Commission ruled that foreign donors may give to state ballot measure campaigns because they are not technically elections under federal law, unless states pass their own laws banning the practice. So far, eight states—California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington—have banned foreign nationals and governments from donating to ballot measure committees, according to the website Ballotpedia. Foreign giving to federal candidates, however, remains illegal.
SB 1769 further stipulates that no state or local candidates, ballot measure campaigns, or political action committees may accept political contributions from foreign principals. The penalty for a first offense under this legislation requires that the improper contribution be returned to the foreign principal or forfeited to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. A second offense dictates that the candidate, ballot measure committee, or PAC must forfeit the balance of any amounts in its accounts to the ethics commission.
The bill would also ban foreign spending and independent expenditures in support of or opposition to any state or local candidates or ballot measures.
Kirt seeks to extend signature gathering period
Senator Julia Kirt (D-Oklahoma City) filed SB 1565 on January 5, a measure that would extend the time allotted for petitioners to gather signatures for state initiatives from ninety to 180 days. Municipal or county ballot measures would still have only ninety days to gather signatures. State referendum petitions would also be required to submit signatures within the ninety-day window currently allowed under state law.
Oklahoma’s signature gathering period is the most restrictive in the nation. Of the twenty-four states that allow for initiated constitutional amendments or statutes, Oklahoma’s ninety-day signature gathering window is the nation’s shortest. Massachusetts has a shorter time limit for initiated constitutional amendments, but they must also be approved by 25 percent of the state legislature before appearing on the ballot. On the other end of the spectrum, Arizona, Illinois, Oregon, and South Dakota allow two years to gather signatures. Arkansas and Ohio have no time limit.
Oklahoma’s constitution requires that the number of signatures required for a constitutional initiative equal 15 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Statutory initiatives require 8 percent, and referendums require 5 percent. The current number of signatures needed to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Oklahoma is 172,993.
To ensure that ballot measures earn enough signatures, many ballot measure campaign managers hire professional gatherers to canvass for signatures from registered voters. This process can be expensive. By extending the deadline for submitting signatures, more volunteers can be utilized, making the process less the province of special interest groups and more accessible to grassroots supporters, proponents say.
The next regular legislative session is set to begin at noon on February 5.
Kirkpatrick Policy Group is a non-partisan, independent, 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization established in 2017 to identify, support, and advocate for positions on issues affecting all Oklahomans, including concern for the arts and arts education, animals, women’s reproductive health, and protecting the state’s initiative and referendum process. Improving the quality of life for Oklahomans is KPG’s primary vision, seeking to accomplish this through its values of collaboration, respect, education, and stewardship.