Opponents of the measure say it is a GOP attempt to suppress the vote ahead of the June 30 primary.
OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) — Only three days after it was struck down by the state’s high court, the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate voted along party lines Thursday to reinstate a requirement that absentee ballots must be notarized.
Senate Bill 210 passed 38-9, with all nine Democratic state senators opposing it. The bill now awaits the signature of Republican Governor Kevin Stitt after it passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives 74-26 late Wednesday evening.
The bill requires absentee ballots to be notarized with the voter’s signature witnessed by two other people. It carves out a narrow exception for Covid-19, allowing absentee voters to mail in a photocopy of identification instead of a notarized signature during the pandemic.
“The measure also authorizes the delivery of absentee ballots to designated officials of care homes in the event an absentee voting board is prohibited from entering a nursing facility or veterans center due to restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic or another localized outbreak of a communicable disease,” the one-page bill summary states.
Critics claim the bill is a Republican attempt at obstructing elderly and medically compromised voters from participating in the state’s June 30 primary election. The ballot is headlined by State Questions 802, which asks voters whether to expand Medicaid.
Let the People Vote – a coalition of voting rights and medical groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Nurses Association and Oklahoma AFL-CIO – said the Senate vote is “still heartbreaking” while “not at all unexpected.”
“We must continue to remove barriers and stand with Oklahomans who have to choose between their right to vote and health,” the group tweeted. “This fight is not over until we #letOKvote.”
Republican state lawmakers claim the lack of a notary requirement makes absentee ballots vulnerable to voter fraud. They began writing the legislation immediately after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 6-3 Monday in favor of the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma and two voters. The plaintiffs sued the state’s election board on April 23, claiming it was incorrectly instructing voters that a sworn, notarized affidavit is required for absentee ballots.
The majority concluded the notary requirement did not qualify as an exception to a 2002 state law that allows signed, sworn statements made under the penalty of perjury to suffice instead.
During oral arguments before the high court’s appointed referee on April 29, the state argued that it makes no sense for state law to require identification to cast a ballot in person, yet not require the same identification for an absentee voter.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute criticized the restrictions imposed by SB 210, noting only two other states use them.
“Passed in the middle of a pandemic, this bill would roll back a state Supreme Court decision from just days ago and continues the shameful shell game that began yesterday in the House,” it said in a statement. “In the midst of a global health crisis, our lawmakers should be looking for opportunities to strengthen Oklahoma’s election integrity, ensuring not only that our elections are secure but also that Oklahomans may exercise their right to vote freely and without fear.”
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said Thursday that voting by mail “should be the norm in all elections” and especially during a pandemic.
“This legislative attack is based on bogus claims of voter fraud, but it is abundantly clear that the real motivation is to make it harder for Oklahomans to exercise their power at the ballot box,” he said in a statement. “If the governor signs this bill, Oklahoma will, again, stand-alone in requiring its voters to comply with such unnecessary hurdles.”
Oklahoma voters have until June 4 to register for the June 30 primary. They have until June 25 to request an absentee ballot.