TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Oklahoma voters in 2010 and 2012 had to navigate general election ballots crowded with 17 questions that appealed to conservatives and, in turn, helped Republicans tighten their grip on state government.
This November, voters will only have two issues to consider, as of now.
This year’s topics are low-key when compared to their predecessors - one would clarify that military service doesn’t disqualify a person from a state job and the other would give tax relief to the spouses of military personnel killed in the line of duty.
Eleven questions went before voters in 2010 and six more were put to voters in 2012. The past issues included making English the state’s official language, banning courts from using Sharia law to decide cases, requiring voters to show identification at the polls and allowing residents to opt out of the new federal health care overhaul - some of which ended up being challenged in court.
In 2014, State Question 769 clarifies that a resident’s military service doesn’t prohibit the person from serving in a state job and Question 770 would expand a property tax exemption to surviving spouses of military personnel killed in the line of duty.
Outside the Legislature, an initiative dealing with the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions and possibly a funding plan for building storm shelters in schools might also go to voters this fall if enough signatures are collected across the state.
A separate tornado-shelter financing plan for school districts presented to legislators by Gov. Mary Fallin died when the Senate defeated the proposal before the Legislature closed up shop Friday night.
Pollsters said this year’s state questions reflect a sentiment among some Oklahoma lawmakers that the 2014 election cycle won’t be terribly competitive, as both the governor’s office and Legislature are figured to remain safely in Republican hands.
“That’s why you don’t have the big values issues, for lack of a better term,” said Pat McFerron, a Republican pollster and political strategist. “I don’t think there was a push to motivate conservatives to vote in November in the state.
“Republicans have accomplished a lot during their tenure, so there wasn’t the need to do a whole lot this year. They’ve already moved the needle,” McFerron said.
State Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, who co-authored State Question 769, said the dearth of ballot issues this year also illustrates the usual difficulty of shepherding a proposed idea out of the Legislature and onto voter ballots.
“It’s hard to do because representatives and senators here scrutinize things very well because you don’t want to put something willy-nilly into the constitution,” Enns said. He said fewer state questions are sometimes better for voters who may fall victim to “ballot fatigue” if they have to sort through too many questions.
Even a proposal that seems straightforward enough, such as this fall’s military service question, was three years in the making, said Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, who co-authored the bill.
“It can be a painful process of trying to educate not only Senate committees and get the same thing done on the House side,” but also making certain voters are informed heading into an election, Fields said.
McFerron, the pollster, cautioned against reading too much into the year’s lack of the kind of state questions that pack a political punch.