Lawmakers attempting to fool Oklahoma voters with a little sleight of hand and bill shuffling should think twice about playing politics with the lives of constituents.
They quickly went to work trying to erect barriers to safe and secure voting removed just two days earlier by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Justices, in a 6-3 decision rendered Monday, struck down a requirement that absentee ballots be notarized before they are returned and counted.
The Oklahoma League of Women Voters and two others petitioned the court for the change due to concerns about how the COVID-19 pandemic could impact voters’ ability to cast ballots without risking personal and public health. In-person voting jeopardizes the safety of voters and precinct workers, and absentee voting — before the high court’s ruling — put voters and notaries at risk.
Six of the nine justices acknowledged state law provides an option other than a notarized affidavit that is legally binding and enforceable under penalty of perjury against a person who might try to commit fraud. Affording voters more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus the option to verify the validity and accuracy of their absentee ballots would eliminate risks of exposure and contagion for several groups while protecting suffrage rights.
House Republicans swapped out language in one bill, which was amended a couple times, and then substituted language on a second bill about an hour before they were gaveled into session. They approved the second bill that would require absentee voters who are unable to secure notary services to attach a photocopy of their voter identification card or an approved form of government-issued photo identification to the ballot.
Those who support the end run around the Supreme Court argue the proposed change is necessary to prevent voter fraud. They contend those who cast absentee ballots should be treated no different than those who are required to present identification when they vote at precincts — the voter identification requirement was approved as a state question.
The idea that widespread fraud is being perpetrated by those who vote by mail is a false narrative being pedaled by people who have failed numerous times to prove it exists. Voting by mail is the primary method used by five states and voters in 28 states, including those in Oklahoma, may vote by mail without providing any reason or excuse. More than 31 million Americans, one of every four who voted, cast ballots by mail in 2018.
A national investigative reporting project funded by the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation identified only 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud from 2000 to 2012. Election law professor Richard L. Hasen, in a column recently published by The Washington Post, states “literally billions of votes were cast” during that period, and such fraud was rare in those states where mail-in voting is prevalent.
While House Republicans, who granted themselves the option to vote remotely during this pandemic, appear willing to risk the lives of others who dare to take part in the democratic process, we urge their Senate colleagues to exercise more caution: Vote no against Senate Bill 210.