The state attorney general's office is advising state election officials not to place third-party presidential and vice presidential candidates on Oklahoma's ballot in November.
Oklahoma's chairman of the Americans Elect Party said Wednesday a challenge will be filed to the legal memorandum issued by Senior Assistant Attorney General Neal Leader.
“That was quite disappointing,” said Rex Lawhorn, of Broken Arrow. “Litigation is definitely on the table. … We're not going to give up. The state made the wrong decision in this particular case.”
Leader wrote in a memorandum to the Oklahoma Election Board that national officials with the Americans Elect Party never authorized the formation of any local party group or committee in Oklahoma. Nor did national party officials ever file the paperwork and complete the necessary tasks to be recognized as a political party in the state. Under the Americans Elect Party's bylaws, it is the party's board of directors that is empowered to perform any functions of the local party or committee in Oklahoma, not Lawhorn's group.
It also was the Americans Elect Party's board of directors — not Lawhorn's group — that was empowered, if desired, to elect the party's Oklahoma presidential electors, Leader said.
“Under these facts, Mr. Lawhorn's local group is at best a group acting in good faith, but a group acting without authority to act for the Americans Elect Party,” Leader wrote. “At worst, Mr. Lawhorn's local group is a group acting to hijack the Americans Elect Party for the benefit of the Libertarian Party's candidates for president and vice president — candidates who have not succeeded in other attempts to appear on the ballot in Oklahoma.”
Leader advised election officials not to place Americans Elect Party presidential and vice presidential candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Even if Lawhorn's group were authorized to nominate presidential electors, no Americans Elect Party candidates should appear on the ballot because the national party's board of directors chose not to field candidates for president or vice president, Leader said. Electors, if chosen, would have no function; under Oklahoma law, electors appear only in brackets next to the candidates for president and vice president chosen by the party at the national level.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said his staff will comply with Leader's advice and proceed accordingly.
“Our staff will be working through the weekend,” Ziriax said.
Ballots could be sent to the printers as early as Tuesday, he said. State election officials have to send ballots by early September to printers in order to get them mailed to military members and others living in other countries by Sept. 21, or 45 days before the Nov. 6 election, to comply with federal law.
Ziriax sought the attorney general's office advice after Lawhorn submitted his party's seven electors for the presidential election; a day earlier, Kahil Byrd, a director of the Americans Elect Party, wrote Oklahoma election officials that the party is withdrawing its ballot line on the Nov. 6 ballot and is terminating its status as a qualified party in Oklahoma.
Lawhorn said members of the newly formed Oklahoma American Elect Party met earlier and agreed to have Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson and his vice presidential running mate, James Gray, listed as their party's nominees.
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.
Americans Elect Party officials planned to hold the first-ever online nominating convention to select a president-and-vice president ticket, but the idea evaporated when no candidates stepped forward to run.
Americans Elect Party officials decided in June to suspend their plans. Lawhorn said he was contacted by Johnson's campaign about a month later about considering listing Johnson as the Americans Elect Party's presidential candidate in Oklahoma.
Efforts to obtain political party status this year in Oklahoma for the Libertarian Party came up short. 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.