The group circulating an initiative petition for a statewide election to raise $850 million more a year for schools will deliver about 235,000 signatures for the proposal to the Secretary of State at 10 a.m. Monday, leaders of the group said.
The organization, which includes educators and other supporters, collected nearly 100,000 more signatures than was needed, said Leta Odom, executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association, whose members are involved in the petition drive. The group is called HOPE — Helping Oklahoma Public Education.
Gathered earlyThe organization had 90 days to collect signatures but quit circulating the proposal Oct. 1 because organizers believed they had more than enough, Odom said. The deadline to turn in the signatures is Nov. 3. Because it is a constitutional amendment, HOPE needed to collect at least 138,970 signatures. Kent Meyers, attorney for HOPE, said the petition states that the group wants this issue to be on the general election ballot in 2010. HOPE wants to increase the per-pupil funding for schools to the regional average. The current per-pupil funding is $6,900 a year, compared with an $8,300 regional average. If the proposal clears all challenges and is approved by voters, the increase in money for schools would be phased in over a three-year period.
Lessons learnedIn 2006, the Supreme Court threw out a taxpayers’ bill of rights petition, saying it lacked sufficient signatures to get on the ballot. The court said that to circulate petitions, a person must be a resident who has an "honest intent to make a place one’s residence or domicile.” The taxpayers proposal, called TABOR, used out-of-state people to circulate the petition. Because of that ruling, HOPE used in-state people to circulate its petition. Circulators were trained before they began seeking signatures, Odom said. Also, signatures on petitions were checked against Oklahoma voter registrations to ensure those who signed the petition were also registered voters. "We wanted to be sure we did it the right way,” said Richard Wilkinson, general counsel for the association. The group raised $600,000 for this part of the petition drive. Larry Wood, who is in charge of the petition drive, said about 250 people were paid circulators.
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More challenges aheadOnce Helping Oklahoma Public Education files the signatures, the Secretary of State’s office will count them. The count will be reported to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which will determine if the petition has enough signatures. If there are enough, the court then will establish a protest period for anyone to file objections, which could include challenging the signatures or the petition’s legality. To get on an election ballot, the petition must clear these challenges. Groups circulating initiative petitions often get more signatures than necessary in case there are challenges to signatures.