Tall order: Petition process needs a fix

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: November 14, 2007
THE initiative petition process in Oklahoma can use a facelift. Intended as a means for citizens to petition the government, the process is fraught with hurdles that make getting petitions to the ballot a rare success indeed.

Recent initiative petition efforts have come up empty for various reasons. They included a drive involving a school funding formula, one regarding a so-called taxpayer bill of rights (TABOR) and another that would have raised the minimum wage. In the case of the petition drive seeking a statewide vote on TABOR, which would have restricted government spending, circulators found themselves the target of an intimidation campaign that involved the state's largest teachers union. Ultimately the state Supreme Court said there weren't enough valid signatures collected. Those responsible for circulating the TABOR petition have since been accused by a multicounty grand jury of knowingly hiring out-of-state residents to do the work — state law requires that residents collect signatures.

Groups that wish to petition for change really have to work for it in Oklahoma. To change state law, circulators must secure signatures equal to 8 percent of the number of people who voted for the highest office in the most recent statewide election. For a constitutional amendment, the figure is 15 percent. Circulators have 90 days to get the signatures, which then must be vetted by the Supreme Court.

Such rules certainly help keep the length of the ballot manageable. But the volume of signatures needed, and the brief time allowed to collect them, no doubt contributes to the problem of groups hiring sometimes unscrupulous circulators.

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