Law & Principles
Ray Carter | September 21, 2021
Federal bill called threat to secure Oklahoma elections
Oklahoma’s top election official said a proposed “compromise” election-overhaul measure introduced by U.S. Senate Democrats retains the flaws of its predecessors by mandating a “dubious federalization of election administration” that will “make it harder to administer fair and secure elections.”
“If this bill becomes law, state and county election officials in Oklahoma would likely need to hire an army of lawyers to make sense of the minutia of its many new regulations, as well as add a significant number of additional staff to implement and administer its requirements,” Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax wrote in a Sept. 17 letter to Oklahoma’s two U.S. senators. “It is also important to note that the ‘Freedom to Vote Act’ conflicts with many of Oklahoma’s existing laws, procedures and deadlines.”
Ziriax noted the proposed “Freedom to Vote Act,” which is roughly 600 pages in length, would “weaken Oklahoma's modest and easy-to-understand proof of identity law” and replace it with a “complicated, confusing and less secure ID process” that includes “loopholes that effectively waive ID requirements for voters who merely sign a piece of paper ‘affirming’ their identity.”
Even as the federal bill guts voter ID requirements for in-person voting, it eliminates them for absentee voting. Ziriax noted the proposed federal law would “make it unlawful for states like Oklahoma to enforce laws that verify the identity of absentee voters.”
Oklahoma law currently requires verification of identity to ensure that the person casting an absentee ballot is the person who requested an absentee ballot. Election experts have long warned that absentee voting is susceptible to fraud.
The federal bill would also require all states to provide “same day registration” to vote, eliminating state deadlines that require citizens to register in advance of elections. Ziriax wrote that the proposed “same-day registration” process involves “no verification of the person’s residence address, eligibility to vote, or current registration status.”
“This would create a new risk of undetectable fraud,” Ziriax wrote.
The letter also noted the “Freedom to Vote Act” extends the deadline for accepting late absentee ballots beyond Oklahoma’s current deadline and “prevents the reporting of 100% of votes on election night,” which is the current practice.
The legislation also makes it “difficult to challenge its constitutional defects in court by requiring plaintiffs to travel to Washington, DC to file lawsuits,” Ziriax noted, but then “incentivizes local federal lawsuits against state and local election officials stemming from the Act—going so far as to create numerous ‘private rights of action’" that could enrich activist attorneys.”
Ziriax warned of similar problems with previous federal election-overhaul measures in June.
Ziriax’s latest letter was issued less than a week after Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor joined 22 other state attorneys general vowing to fight in court a similar election bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“The ‘Freedom to Vote Act’ is an extensive and complex bill, so it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of concerns in this letter,” Ziriax wrote. “However, I fear that its enactment would lead to less confidence in our elections, not more. Furthermore, due to its complexity and its numerous conflicts with our state’s current election laws, deadlines, and procedures, the ‘Freedom to Vote Act’ would be nearly impossible for Oklahoma election officials to implement in the narrow timeline required by the bill—and attempting to do so would be a recipe for chaos in our elections.”
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.