Independents and voters wanting more of a choice in candidates called upon lawmakers Monday to ease Oklahoma's ballot access laws, which are regarded as the most restrictive in the country.
“Everyone should have a voice,” said Donna Bebo, of Fletcher, a Democratic candidate for the 4th Congressional District. “I don't believe that any vote is a wasted vote.”
R.J. Harris, an independent candidate for the 4th Congressional District who earlier sought the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination, criticized lawmakers for wanting to keep only the Democratic and Republican parties on the ballot.
“The parties no longer represent us,” said Harris, of Norman. “It's time for us to realize that party politics is not how we're going to fix this country.”
Legislators have rebuffed efforts over the years of relaxing requirements to get another party on the ballot. The House of Representatives passed a bill in 2011 that would have lowered the number of petition signatures needed to get a political party on the ballot, but it failed to advance in the Senate.
Some of the 40 people attending a noon rally on the Capitol's north plaza also were irked by a state Supreme Court ruling last month that denied a request from the Oklahoma Americans Elect Party to have its nominees and the party's seven presidential electors listed on the state's Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Members of the newly formed Oklahoma Americans Elect Party voted to have Gary Johnson and his vice presidential running mate, James Gray, listed as their party's nominees.
The Oklahoma Americans Elect Party members were never authorized to act on behalf of the Americans Elect party, which was formed in Washington, D.C., the high court said. National party officials notified the state Election Board in August that it was withdrawing its ballot line on the Nov. 6 ballot and was terminating its status as a qualified party in Oklahoma.
A Libertarian candidate hasn't been on Oklahoma's presidential ballot since 2000. In 2004 and 2008, Oklahoma was the only state that had only Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Write-in candidates are not allowed.
The Libertarian Party's presidential candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, will be on the ballot in 47 states.
The spirit of the law was to prevent frivolous candidates from getting on the ballot,” Harris said. “We should not be keeping constitutionally qualified candidates off the ballot in an attempt to simply foster and continue to prop up the two-party system. The people deserve the ability to vote for the candidate of their choice.”
Bebo said the issue goes beyond party politics.
“Candidates should not win simply because of who they keep off the ballot,” she said. “They should win on their own merit.”
“End the two-party dictatorship,” read a sign carried by Anissa Beasinger, a Republican from Oklahoma City.
“We only get Democratic and Republican candidates on the ballot to vote for,” she said.
To have names placed on state ballots, a political party has to get signatures of registered voters that equal at least 5 percent of the votes cast for the office at the top of the previous ticket, or for this year, the total votes cast in the 2010 gubernatorial race. The party needed 51,739 valid signatures.
The Libertarian Party earlier this year turned in about 56,000 signatures, of which 41,070 were determined to be registered voters. Americans Elect turned in about 90,000 signatures. It was determined 68,424 signatures were registered voters.
“It is very, very hard to collect signatures,” said Richard Prawdzienski, of Edmond, an independent candidate for the state Senate District 41 seat. “We need to change the ballot access laws.”
He said he is hoping legislation can be filed next year to relax the ballot access requirements.
Zachary Knight, of Newcastle, suggested those attending the rally to protest the state's ballot access laws by not voting for either the Republican or Democratic presidential candidate.
Dax Ewbank, of Oklahoma City, who failed to get recognized as a delegate to the GOP national convention during this summer's Oklahoma Republican Party Convention, said Oklahomans should have more choice than voting for a Democrat or a Republican.
“In Oklahoma you can have any candidate you want as long as it's red or blue,” he said.