McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

October 18, 2010

State questions could stump voters

Residents, lawmakers question number, complexity of ballot measures

OKLAHOMA CITY — Edmond resident Judy Thorwart listened patiently to the text of a state question that would change the composition for a commission that makes redistricting decision.

Thorwart researched the state questions previously, and after hearing State Question 748 again she said she still has trouble understanding it and some of the more obscure proposals that will be on the Nov. 2 ballot.

“It is a little confusing for a layperson,” she said. “People in government might understand the need for something like that, but I feel like it needs more of an explanation.”

Some voters and legislators question if the electoral process is served by having so many state questions, including many about complex issues, on a single ballot.

Voters will decide 11 state questions this election. Some of the state questions, particularly one that would dramatically increase education funding, have been heavily debated. Others topics, such redistricting commissions, judicial appointments and petition requirements, could leave voters scratching their heads at the ballot box.

Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, said many of his constituents have complained to him about a few of questions that are less than clear-cut. He said he worries the length of the ballot also could cause problems on Election Day.

“There has been a lot of confusion about two or three of the questions,” he said. “I think in the future we shouldn’t put so many state question on the ballot because we going to have a confused electorate, long lines at polling places and possibly some short tempers.”

Only State Question 744, which would require Oklahoma to spend annually no less than the average amount spent on each student by surrounding states, was put on the ballot by a petition drive. Lawmakers passed joint resolutions during the 2009 and 2010 session to put the other 10 questions on the ballot.

Legislators need a two-thirds vote to change the state Constitution. However, a majority vote can send the issue to voters. Many of the state questions arrived on the ballot after legislators couldn’t get enough votes to make the Constitution changes themselves.

Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said it is an “abomination” that lawmakers let so many issues get on the ballot. He said voters are capable of understanding even the more complex proposals. However, he said lawmakers are doing the voters a disservice by essentially passing the buck and not performing the tasks they were elected to do.

“I think it is a problem because voters elected us to do a job and come down here and do it,” he said. “Voters are busy and they don’t necessarily have the time to weigh the pros and cons of 11 state questions when they are busy working to pay their mortgage, feeding their kids and keeping their family happy.”

Williams also blames many legislators for choosing to let voters decide just so the elected officials are not blamed for a potentially unpopular outcome. He added voters should hold their representatives accountable and remind them of their legislative responsibilities.

In addition to the 11 state questions, voters will make their selection in races for eight state executive officers, a senator, Congressional representatives and local state legislators, district attorneys and judges.

Faught said voters could be overwhelmed or even discouraged from voting because of the number of issues. Faught said one recommendation he heard from a resident from California is to follow the Golden State’s lead by mailing out official sample ballot booklets that provide nonpartisan information about candidates and issues.

“Obviously that would have some cost to it,” he said. “But what you can also have happen is voters staying informed by reading articles in newspapers and seeing what is being written highlighting the issues.”

Linda Allen, a theology student who recently moved to the state from Arizona, said the number or complexity of the state questions should not be a excuse to not vote. She said it is the voter's duty to educate himself about all topics on the ballot.

“Freedom isn’t cheap,” she said. “You have to come prepared and self-educate yourself about it all.”

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