Statement, attributable to OK Policy Executive Director Ahniwake Rose:
The Oklahoma House on Wednesday played ‘three-bill monte’ with legislation that would keep many Oklahomans from voting safely. The legislative changes, made just minutes before floor debate began, appeared to be an attempt to ram through legislation that places unneeded barriers for our neighbors who want to vote via absentee ballot.
Proponents on Wednesday used voter fraud as an argument for enacting voting barriers, but this is a straw man argument. There is no factual evidence that voting fraud is a problem. However, low voter turnout is. We should be taking steps to encourage Oklahomans to safely exercise their constitutional right to vote.
In the face of an unprecedented national health emergency, our legislators pledged that the remainder of this session would focus only on bills that directly impacted the state’s health, safety, and economic security. Placing restrictions on absentee voting achieves none of those objectives. In fact, the new voting requirements — and the eventual return of notarization requirements — is voter suppression.
Justice Louis Brandeis coined the phrase that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” The actions from many Oklahoma lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon suggest they were taking great pains to keep Oklahomans in the dark about separating them from their right to vote safely.
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Advocacy groups and individuals late Tuesday began alerting fellow residents about absentee voting barriers that lawmakers were trying to quietly move forward. These proposed changes could result in Oklahomans from voting safely.
The proposed legislation — originally filed as an amendment to SB 1779 — would require voters to include a photocopy of identification when submitting an absentee ballot. This would put Oklahoma as one of only three states with similar requirements.
Additionally, the legislation would reinstate in 2021 the notarization requirement, which was struck down Monday by the Supreme Court after Oklahomans sued to say that such a provision endangers their health.
When lawmakers realized that procedural issues would keep SB 1779 from being heard as planned on Wednesday, they made last-minute changes to try to amend it to at least two other bills.
Just a few minutes before Wednesday afternoon’s session was to start, the legislation was introduced as an amendment that completely overhauled SB 210, which had been an unrelated bill about public-private partnerships until today’s amendment. The change was made less than an hour before the House session convened.
SB 210 was approved 74-26 and it will now go to the Senate for consideration.