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Ray Carter | June 3, 2021

Oklahoma official warns federal bill could cause election 'chaos'

Ray Carter

In a letter sent to Oklahoma’s two U.S. senators, the secretary of the Oklahoma State Election Board warned that an election bill promoted by congressional Democrats “guarantees chaos in our elections.”

The June 2 letter from Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax focused on the provisions of S.1, titled by its authors as the “For the People Act of 2021.” That federal bill would dramatically change state election laws across the nation, including Oklahoma.

Ziriax warned the bill’s provisions represent “an unnecessary (and constitutionally dubious) federalization of election administration policy that would negatively impact our ability to administer fair and secure elections in Oklahoma.”

Ziriax said the Senate legislation would “supersede most of Oklahoma’s election administration and election integrity laws.”

Among other things, the federal bill would legalize “absentee ballot harvesting” that allows third parties to collect absentee ballots from voters and deliver them to state authorities. The practice has been associated with fraud, including in 2018 when the North Carolina State Board of Elections overturned the results of an election in that state’s Ninth Congressional District due fraudulent vote harvesting in what the board called a “coordinated, unlawful, and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme.”

Ziriax said the Senate legislation would also make it “virtually impossible to verify the identity of in-person and absentee voters—in direct contravention of Oklahoma’s election laws. S.1 also attempts to micromanage some of the most minute details of election administration, such as voting hours and polling place locations.”

Currently, Ziriax noted Oklahoma election law requires that elections be certified one week after an election. That deadline would be eliminated by S.1, which would require the state to continue accepting and counting absentee ballots for 10 days after an election.

Ziriax also warned that the legislation “is not realistic in its timelines for implementing its election administration changes.”

“By our estimation, implementing even a few of its major provisions could take years—yet S.1 demands that many new election administration policies and technologies be put in place in time for the 2022 elections,” Ziriax wrote. “This is not only impossible, it also sets up election officials for failure and guarantees chaos in our elections.”

He noted questions have been raised about the legislation’s constitutionality since the U.S. Constitution makes it “the responsibility of State Legislatures to determine the time, manner, and place of elections.”

Democrats have made the bill a priority, often citing it as a method to push back against state-level election-security measures that have been promoted mostly by Republicans, such as requiring voter identification at the polls.

In a May 28 tweet, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, announced, “This Senate will vote on the For The People Act in June. It is essential to defending our democracy and stopping the wave of Republican voter suppression happening in the states in service of Donald Trump’s Big Lie.”

The latter part of Schumer’s comment is a reference to former President Trump’s comments about election irregularities and perceived illegality in some state or local jurisdictions in the 2020 presidential election.

“The justification for S.1 that I hear most often from its proponents is that it is necessary to counter new ‘voter suppression’ laws in the States,” Ziriax wrote. “But the concerns about these new election laws seem exaggerated, and in many cases appear to be based on misinformation about the content of those laws. Furthermore, regardless of what is happening in other States, there is no evidence of ‘voter suppression’ here in our state.”

Oklahoma’s election-security laws have already withstood a federal lawsuit.

In September 2020, a U.S. district court judge appointed by former President Obama rejected the Oklahoma Democratic Party and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s request to strike down Oklahoma’s absentee-voting laws, declaring those laws impose only a “minimal burden” and that voter-fraud concerns “are legitimate and weighty.”

The lawsuit challenged several Oklahoma election laws that govern absentee voting, including a requirement for absentee ballots to include either notarization or a copy of a voter’s ID, the deadline for absentee ballots to be delivered by 7 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted, and a ban on “ballot harvesting.”

Polls have generally shown strong support for specific election-security measures, such as voter ID, and a Hill-HarrisX poll found that more citizens support greater restrictions on voting than the share who support relaxing voting safeguards. That poll, conducted from April 24-27, found 43 percent of registered voters said voting laws should be stricter to prevent voter fraud, compared to 31 percent who said voting should be made more accessible.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

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.

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