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.”
Trevor Brown covers the Oklahoma statehouse for CNHI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Read the state questions:
- Visit the Oklahoma State Election Board at www.ok.gov/elections to read the text of all 11 state questions.
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Explaining the “tough” state questions:
State Question 748
- The issue: Redistricting commission
- What it means: Would change the members that make up the Appropriation Commission, which would perform redistricting work if the legislature fails to do so, to make it more nonpartisan. Currently the three-member committee is comprised of the state attorney general, superintendent of public schools and treasurer. The state question would create a five-member commission with the president pro tempore of the Senate, speaker of the House of Representatives and governor each appointing one Democrat and one Republican. The lieutenant governor would be the seventh member, but would not be able to vote.
- How it got on the ballot: Senate Joint Resolution 25 passed 25-to-21 in the Senate and 59-to-38 in the House during the 2009 session.
State Question 750
- The issue: Initiative and referendum petitions
- What it means: Effectively makes it easier for citizens to get put measures on ballot to propose new laws or Constitution changes or to reject laws passed by the legislature. It would do this by lowering the percentage of voters needed to sign a petition to create the initiative or referendum.
- How it got on the ballot: Senate Joint Resolution 13 passed 42-to-4 in the House and 78-to-13 in the Senate during the 2009 session.
State Question 752
- The issue: Nominating judges
- What it means: Gives the legislature the ability to add two at-large members to a commission that nominates judges or justices to the governor when vacancies occur. The president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives would each get to name one person.
- How it got on the ballot: Senate Joint Resolution 27 passed the House and Senate during the 2009 session.