Something stinks in the Sooner State.
Oklahoma voters were the only voters with no choices for president on their ballot except
Bush Skull and Kerry Bones in 2004, and Oklahoma is one of 5 states that doesn’t permit write-ins, so Oklahoma voters who wanted to vote for someone other than Bush or Kerry in 2004 completely lost their right to vote (Source: Ballot Access News). In order to be on the ballot, an independent candidate or alternative party has to get signatures equal to 5% of the last vote cast, which is the hardest standard in the country, and they have to get 10% of the vote to keep their place on the ballot, second behind only Alabama with 20%. Half of the state legislative races go completely unopposed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court refused a challenge to this edict, and the feds have no jurisdiction.
Currently, there is an
effort underway to change this crazy scheme by initiative, but Oklahoma makes it hard to get issues on the ballot by initiative. Statute initiatives must get the signatures of 8% of the voters, which is among the highest percentages among states which allow citizen initiative, and constitutional amendments need 15%, tied with Arizona for the highest percentage required by any state that allows constitutional amendments by citizen petition according to a chart by
National Voter Outreach. The signatures have to all be gathered within 90 days, and then the State Supreme Court can hold up approval for the vote to take place by over a year.
After you gather the signatures, you have to print the names of everyone who signed on the back of the page. Imagine having to do that several hundred times after you get back from a hard day of asking people to sign and getting run out (or attempted) of every location imaginable, public and private, or having to flip the page over and ask busy people to print their name a second time for every single signature – especially when working on more than one issue. Yep, it sucks, and is one of the most asinine rules I have encountered in petitioning in 27 states plus DC over the past ten years. And there are some very asinine rules out there, such as New England states requiring signatures from every city to be on a separate page, and Massachusetts ruling that any tiny tear, food stain, stray pen mark or writing outside the box disqualifies a whole page of signatures.
To make matters worse, in a decision in the case of Yes on Term Limits v. Savage, U.S. District Court Judge Tim Leonard upheld a challenged Oklahoma state law (in effect since 1969) banning out of state residents from being ballot petition circulators and signature-collectors there. Who, exactly, is a state resident? People move all the time. Some more frequently than others. Some people don’t predictably live in one place long enough to get a mortgage or apartment lease, so we prefer to live in motels or stay with friends (I resemble this remark). Some people don’t even have a place to live at all. Does that mean we should lose our right to petition the government for redress of grievances?
Shortly after this ruling, as Brian Doherty reports at Reason Magazine,
longtime libertarian political activist Paul Jacob was indicted on felony charges in Oklahoma for conspiracy to defraud the state, along with Susan Johnson of National Voter Outreach and Rick Carpenter of Oklahomans in Action.
It isn’t Jacob’s first time with the guns of the state aimed at him. He served five months in jail in 1984, after a year on the run, for refusal to register for the draft.
In his interview about the arrest with Brian Doherty, Paul Jacob explains:
In 2005, Oklahomans in Action launched an initiative campaign to bring two measures to the ballot in Oklahoma, one of them a taxpayer bill of rights (TABOR) that puts a cap on the rate by which state government spending can increase and only allows that cap to be overridden by a vote of the people.
I worked at the time for Americans for Limited Government and we were making significant contributions to that campaign. My job was to help the campaign get on the ballot and help them find a petition company. I helped Rick Carpenter decide on National Voter Outreach, who had done successful initiatives in Oklahoma 10 or 15 times over the past 10-15 years.
As this campaign unfolded, it met with ferocious opposition. Tactics included hiring “blockers” at $100 a day who admitted going into stores and lying to managers that a petitioner had cursed them out or treated them rudely and urging the manager to throw them out. As someone would talk to the petitioner, these folks would come around and begin yelling and be abusive. People trying to get groceries are doing petitioners a favor to stop as it is; they don’t want to be involved in a street fight.
reason: Is this common when interests are opposed to the content of a petition drive?
Jacob: The ferocity by which the powers that be opposed this drive is something I’ve never seen before. I saw a lot of harassment during my years working on term limits initiatives, but when it came to TABOR it increased tenfold and the worst case was Oklahoma. Something ran in the paper that mentioned petitioners were going to post offices, and the next day every petitioner at a post office was told to leave by police.
That sort of thing made it very difficult for the petitioners. They were falling behind. One of the things I asked the petitioning company about was the rules on people coming in from out of state to collect signatures. In most of the country now anyone from anywhere can petition. Oklahoma has a residency requirement, but [National Voter Outreach] was told by people with the state election board and secretary of state that this requirement could be met by anyone who moved to Oklahoma and declared themselves a resident. There was no requirement they live the rest of their days in Oklahoma; if they ended up not getting a job after this, they could go elsewhere to find a job. I don’t know of any agency you can go to to have them declare you a resident. If the petitioner declares themselves a resident and lists an Oklahoma address, then that’s a resident.
I asked for any court precedents, as often times no matter what the law says as written or what an official tells you, you want to know what judges have up their sleeve. There was a recent case [involving a petition regarding a ban on cockfighting] in which the petition was alleged to have been circulated by people who were not Oklahoma residents. The court basically upheld the signatures collected by every one of those people, even people they could not find.
The alleged conspiracy to defraud the state of Oklahoma by violating their hopelessly vague and probably unconstitutional residency statutes for ballot petitioners carries a 10-year maximum sentence, and a $25,000 fine.
Jacob, Carpenter and Johnson were handcuffed and shackled for hours at the hearing, as if they were a flight risk.
According to the interview with Paul Jacob,
The challenge [to the TABOR signatures] included public employee unions, teachers unions, the AFL/CIO, and also a number of the most wealthy Republican donors in the state, folks with energy companies and banks.
Gee, how can that be? I thought wealthy Republicans and big corporations were supposed to be on the opposite side from big government unions? Not so much, as it turns out.
No one had ever previously been prosecuted under this obscure and murky edict, but as Paul Jacob explains,
It’s a malevolent law designed to do against petition rights and the initiative process what folks in Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s wanted to do against freedom riders coming into the state. It’s a law designed to stop us from helping each other control our government.
I love the initiative and referendum process, so I not only fear what this could do to me and my family and kids and grandson. This is a dagger at the heart of people’s ability to directly influence the political decision making process. Initiative and referendum is where people who aren’t bigshot politicians can come up with an idea and, working with their neighbors, really make a difference. If anyone thinking of getting involved as a citizen in the process has to factor in possibly going to prison for 10 years, a lot of husbands and wives will decide that sort of citizen activism isn’t for them.
Oklahoma’s attempt to hamstring citizen initiative is not new. In his public statement about the arrest, Paul Jacob explains…
Twice in the last quarter century—in Meyer v. Grant and in ACLF v. Buckley—the U.S. Supreme Court struck down similar restrictions, like regulating petitioners’ pay and requiring petitioners to be registered voters. As the High Court put it in Meyer, government cannot “reduce the available pool” of people to assist citizens in communicating with their fellow citizens and petitioning their government.
After the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in the TABOR challenge, there’s a new interpretation of the residency statute. The new standard argues that no one who moves to the state to accept a job, no matter how long the duration, is a “genuine” resident unless he is committed to remaining in the state permanently. For example, in the challenge to the TABOR petition, the court ruled that a man who had come to Oklahoma in September of 2005 to circulate the petition and then continued to live in the state for the next ten months was NOT a resident. Thus, the Oklahoma voters who signed his petitions were disenfranchised.
Under the new requirement of residency there is simply no way for petition companies to adequately determine whether a petitioner is or is not a resident. Therefore, future petition proponents and managers can expect to face criminal prosecution depending on circumstances largely, if not entirely, beyond their control. This is certain to have a chilling effect on petition activity.
The way in which party hack Oklahoma AG Drew Edmondson applies this vague, ridiculous limitation on free speech and interstate commerce is reminiscent of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Marie Price at The Journal Record reported on July 6, 2006, that:
State Election Board Secretary Michael Clingman said the issue of just what ‘residency’ means in Oklahoma is rehashed every couple of years or so during election challenges or an arena such as the TABOR signature hearings, pretty much on a case-by-case basis.
Clingman said the voter registration process requires, among other things, a declaration that the individual is an Oklahoma resident.
He said Oklahoma law does not require a specific period of time to become a resident.
Of course, not everyone in Oklahoma is a giant douche or a turd sandwich; only most of the state’s business, political and union leadership, and one famously bellicose country music singer who has personally benefited from government abuse of eminent domain on behalf of politically connected corporate interests (but that’s another story).
Many of the ordinary, hard working people of Oklahoma are good people, which is probably why the corrupt klepto-oligarchy in control of the state wants to keep them from having too much direct say in their own governance, or the right to choose more flavors of politicians to represent them than the two-headed Janus presenting political choices analogous to Coke and Pepsi.
FreePaulJacob.com has reprinted some letters to the editor about the political persecutions over this matter…
Who’s next on political hit list?
The prosecution of Paul Jacob and others for the alleged crime of using out-of-state petition circulators, and the law on which that prosecution is based, are dangerous attacks on our constitutional right to petition for redress of grievances. The tradition of coming to the political assistance of others is well established in American history, law and practice. Should Virginians have stayed home during the Revolution and not assisted the other colonies? Should people not have gone to Alabama in the 1960s to fight injustice?’
According to the Legislature and the Oklahoma attorney general, the answer is “Yes, they should have stayed home.”
I’d bet that an examination of the contribution reports of every legislator who voted for this law and the attorney general who enforces it will show contributions from “out-of-state interests.” These politicians are evidently more interested in protecting their culture of corruption than they are in preserving our constitutional rights.
Our elected officials intend to control and limit the political choices available to Oklahomans. Anyone who disagrees will be punished. That’s why they want to send Paul Jacob to prison for 10 years for the “crime” of petitioning for redress of grievances with out-of-state circulators. Who’s next on their political hit list?
—Bob Waldrop, Oklahoma City
It seems that the Tulsa Whirled [newspaper’s name is Tulsa World] is gloating on this issue and I can assume then that they are a part of the problem.
Paul and his group committed no crime. The crime is the state government using KKK tactics to keep citizens out of the governmental process. What Paul Jacob did was hire professional signature gatherers to move to Oklahoma and become legal residents so that they could abide by state law requiring their residency to collect the signatures. This law violates the U.S. Supreme court ruling Meyer vs. Grant which ruled that a government cannot “reduce the available pool” of people assisting citizens in communicating with other citizens and petitioning their government. Drew Edmonson, the monster of this story decided to attempt to stifle the citizenry by prosecuting Jacob and the others since the signature gatherers planned to move out of Oklahoma.
This is nothing more than an attempt to muzzle citizens in their involvement with their government, a clear violation of our Constitution. Do some searches on Paul Jacobs to get the true story. Regardless of your political leanings or the issue at hand this sets a dangerous and unconstitutional precedent if this disgusting display of fascism is allowed to stand.
—Jeremy Good, Tulsa
Indictment is a farce
This indictment strikes me as flimsy — based on a technicality. I don’t think the residency rule is constitutional. But even if it were, my question is this: why did the State of Oklahoma choose to enforce it now? Are they out to protect their sacred cows? As long as the people signing the petition are state residents, who cares who holds the clipboard w/the petition on it? Of all the corruption that could be prosecuted in Okla., Mr. Edmondson had decided that this is what he will focus on. This indictment is a farce, and it’s designed to block real political reform.
—Jake Matthews, Oklahoma City
The only state
Regarding “Leader of political movement calls charges an attack on First Amendment; Grand jury indicts three over signature gathering” (news story, Oct. 3): The Oklahoma multicounty grand jury is clearly not enforcing a potentially unconstitutional rule about petition circulators, but attempting to eliminate those troublesome petitions themselves. The one currently under attack concerns ballot access reform. In 2004, Oklahoma was the only state with only two presidential candidates on the ballot. The Republicans and Democrats in our government are telling us that we may vote for whomever we please, as long as he or she is a Republican or a Democrat. It’s a pity the major parties weren’t as vigilant in 1860. There had never been a Republican president, and they could have prevented the voters making the mistake of electing Abraham Lincoln.
The petition being circulated advocates making it feasible for a third party to be included on our ballots. This excellent idea has been successfully blocked many times. If the petition had been presented to me by a Texan, an Australian or a man from Mars, I would have signed it, and I would have expressed the same grievance. The only address that should be of concern is that of the registered voter/signer.
—Bert Rackett, Oklahoma City
A multicounty grand jury has indicted three signature gatherers for illegally using out-of-state circulators during a petition drive. Can we now look forward to Page 1 photos of builders, other business owners and homeowners being indicted and led off in handcuffs for using illegal (out-of-state) aliens to build and maintain their houses?
No? Then perhaps another “working fishing trip” for the governor, lawyers and judges, to determine what constitutes “breaking the law,” is in order. While waiting for the fish to bite, they could practice swallowing camels and choking on gnats.
—John D. Carlson, The Village
Why were the American revolutionaries wrong to travel between Philadelphia and Boston, and vice versa? Why was Lafayette wrong to come to the newly united States (from France, Zen) to aid the revolutionary cause? Why was Martin Luther King wrong to help organize civil rights protests in areas of the South outside his own state (and should he have stayed in Georgia where he was born…or in Alabama where he became pastor)? Why is it wrong for any advocate of ideas he believes in to either a) travel or b) say anything to anybody about what he believes once he gets where he’s going? Why is it wrong, even, for a politician in one state to hire as a campaign manager someone living in another state at the time of hiring?
Why, for that matter, is it wrong to publish ideas and advice in newspapers and journals and books that might be read by and hence influence somebody living in some other place or time? It would be sad if Zen’s reading matter were by his own logic confined to authors who live right where he lives, writing only on political topics immediately affecting only local denizens, via words printed and delivered only locally.
Luckily, out of state residents are still allowed to write letters to the editor, and contribute to defense funds in Oklahoma, just as some states allow out of state residents to work and collect “benefits”.
FreePaulJacob.com recommends that you
“Write letters to the editor, especially if you live in Oklahoma * Do blog searches to see who’s mentioning the Oklahoma 3 or Paul Jacob, and comment in response to these posts * Contact local radio or television talk shows about interviewing Paul on the air * Spread the word to everyone you know * Donate to the Free Paul Jacob Defense Fund. Via mail (payable to Free Paul Jacob Defense Fund): Free Paul Jacob Defense Fund, 12934 Harbor Dr., Suite 111, Woodbridge, VA 22192. To donate via credit card, Click Here or call 501-975-3650. To donate via PayPal, Click Here. Thank you for your support!”
This isn’t the last anti-initiative buffoonery the Oklahoma hegemony has planned, either. As Ballot Access News reports,
Oklahoma Democrat Wants to Outlaw Paying Circulators Per Signature
September 26th, 2007
The Oklahoma legislature is not in session until next year. On September 25, an Oklahoma Democratic legislator said he will introduce a bill next year to make it a crime for anyone to pay a petition circulator on a “per signature” basis. The legislator, Rep. Mike Shelton, represents the 97th district in Oklahoma City.
He said, “We can’t continue to incentivize lying to the public about the issues. When a signature collector gets paid according to the number of signatures he collects, what’s to stop him from misrepresenting the issue to the public to get them to sign his petition? These matters are too important to allow snake-oil salesmen to bend the facts and flat-out lie just to fatten their paychecks.”
The implication of Shelton’s remarks is that the ordinary citizen is so stupid and gullible that he or she will sign any petition without looking at it first. Current Oklahoma law requires the title of the Initiative (which is written by the Attorney General) to appear in large print. Many legislators, judges and political commentators believe in their hearts that ordinary people are too uninformed and unthoughtful to be trusted at the voting box. This is the real reason why democratic practices in the U.S. are not secure…many of the most influential and powerful in the U.S., in their hearts, don’t believe in popular control of government. Therefore, they are eroding popular control of government, little by little, with laws and practices that reduce the political power of ordinary people.
As Andy points out in the comments,
I’m really getting sick & tired of these lying hypocrite politicians attacking the petition process. They can put whatever spin on these attacks that they want, but the truth is that they want to take power away from the people and further empower themselves.
To act like everyone who collects petition signatures is a liar is nothing short of being a lie. The average petitioner is more honest than the average politician. If anyone shouldn’t get paid, it is the politicians.
Petitioners are paid through voluntary donations. Politicians are paid through taxes which are involuntary. If anyone shouldn’t be paid it is the politicians.