Oklahoma High Court Strikes Down Notary Mandate for Absentee Ballots

(AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday struck down a requirement that absentee ballots must be notarized, removing an obstacle for elderly and medically compromised voters during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a 6-3 ruling, the high court concluded the requirement does not qualify as an exception to a 2002 state law that allows signed, sworn statements made under the penalty of perjury to suffice.

“Therefore, respondent is directed to recognize affidavits made under the provisions of [the 2002 law] in the context of absentee voting,” wrote Chief Justice Noma Gurich. “Respondent is barred from issuing ballot forms, instructions, and materials suggesting notarization and/or a notarized affidavit form is the only means through with the requisite affidavit for absentee voting may be accomplished.”

The League of Women Voters of Oklahoma and voters Angela Patrick and Peggy Winton directly requested extraordinary relief from the high court on April 23, accusing the state’s election board of incorrectly instructing voters that a sworn affidavit is required.

Court-appointed referee Brant Elmore heard several hours of oral arguments in the case on April 29. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Schneider cited the passage of State Question 746 that requires identification to cast a ballot, arguing it would make no sense to require people voting in person to show identification but not require absentee voters to do the same. He argued the use of a penalty of perjury only applies to civil matters.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Melanie Rughani, with Crowe Dunlevy in Oklahoma City, responded that 47 other states do not have such a notary requirement. She argued her clients are not asking to change the law, only to enforce the existing 2002 law allowing sworn statements.

Justice M. John Kane IV dissented, writing “the issues stand presented to the wrong branch of government.” He was joined by Justice James Winchester. Justice Dustin Rowe wrote a separate dissent.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office said it was reviewing the high court’s ruling.

Jan Largent, president of the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma, said she is “thrilled” the high court “ruled on the side of voters by removing” the notary requirement.

“The league knew this was a fight worth taking on and is honored to accept this decision on behalf of all voters,” she said in a statement. “No voter should ever have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We are grateful that today’s ruling puts Oklahoma voters’ health and constitutional rights first.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma cheered the ruling as a “clear victory,” calling the notary requirement “unnecessary and burdensome” for Oklahoma voters.

“[I]t disproportionately hurt Oklahomans from marginalized communities, as well as those with compromised immune systems and senior citizens,” said Ryan Kiesel, the group’s executive director. “The notary requirement is troubling in any election, but the current pandemic put it in stark relief as voters are being asked to choose between the recommendations of public health experts and exercising their right to vote.”

Oklahoma’s primary election is on June 30. Voters have until June 5 to register and until June 25 to request an absentee ballot. The ballot is headlined by State Questions 802, which asks voters whether to expand Medicaid.

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