Kirt files trio of voter registration and participation bills
Mike Seals - January 14, 2021 10:28 pm
OKLAHOMA CITY – On the heels of record voter turnout nationally for the 2020 election, Oklahoma ranked last in the country in voter turnout rate. To combat this statistic, Sen. Julia Kirt filed a trio of election bills to boost voter registration and participation in the state.
“While our 2020 election turnout was higher than four years ago, only 55 percent of Oklahoma’s 2.85 million voting-eligible citizens cast a ballot last year, far below the national average of 66.4 percent,” said Kirt, D-Oklahoma City. “Unfortunately, last year is typical as our state’s voter registration and participation has been far below the national average for more than 30 years.”
Senate Bill 103 would allow absentee voters who are unable to vote in person because of a physical incapacity, or their designee, to hand-deliver their sealed ballot to their county election board. Currently, absentee ballots for these groups can only be accepted via mail. Under the measure, hand-delivered ballots would still be due by the end of business hours the day before Election Day.
“During the pandemic, many of my constituents voted absentee to keep themselves or their incapacitated loved one safe, but they were surprised to find out they could only mail the ballots back in,” Kirt said. “Other absentee voters are allowed to hand deliver the ballots to the county election board in advance. We have to make this fair and reduce barriers for these voters.”
SB 205 would implement a process for automatic voter registration when an eligible voter gets a state driver’s license or ID, building on the partnership of the State Election Board and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) for verifying individuals. The measure would direct DPS to provide electronic records of each person who is a qualified voter, or who will be a qualified voter within the next two years. The records would be forwarded to the applicable county election board in which the person may be registered or pre-registered to vote. Citizens could opt out if they did not want to register.
“According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 20 other states already automatically register voters,” Kirt said. “Automatic registration is a commonsense update to our voter system that protects the integrity of our elections while making the process more efficient and fair.”
The final bill, SB 77, would require the State Election Board to establish a website to allow Oklahomans to register to vote online by Dec. 31, 2021. Kirt ran the measure during the 2020 legislative session, but it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shortened legislative session.
“Legislation passed in 2015 that authorized an online voter registration. However, the bill did not include a deadline for the website to be developed. Nearly six years later, this system is still not up and running,” Kirt said. “Oklahoma is being left in the dust – at least 37 other states have an online voter registration system. Requiring people to register in-person is archaic in today’s society that is fueled by secure, web-based technology.
“Upgrades to Department of Public Safety systems has given the state access to real-time data to verify voter identity. This should give us the confidence to implement online registrations as soon as possible.”
The bills will be up for consideration when the 2021 legislative session kicks off on Feb. 1.
For more information, contact: Sen. Julia Kirt at 405-521-5636, or email [email protected].