Who owns the rights to the Americans Elect party line on the Oklahoma ballot?
Not David Boren.
The University of Oklahoma president’s brief run at creating a third party for the 2012 presidential contest was always too controversial, but he seemed committed to it. But even the University of Oklahoma president found the latest evolution of the Americans Elect party too weird. Libertarian Party activists took control of the American Elect ballot line in this state, so Boren is bailing.
To be clear, the presidential ballot status of Americans Elect remains murky in Oklahoma, even as state election officials face a tight deadline to start preparing official ballot forms.
State members of the party, which gained a ballot line in March, submitted electors Wednesday, in support of the Libertarian party’s nominee. However, on Tuesday the national Americans Elect organization conveyed, via express mail, formal notification to state election officials that the party “has terminated or otherwise dissolved” its party status in Oklahoma, “effective immediately.” All future correspondence in the matter was directed to a Boston lawyer.
Boren, acting in his private capacity, was the key player in the national group’s efforts in Oklahoma. Friday August 10, he told CapitolBeatOK, "Since Americans Elect did not field a ticket in the presidential election, I will not be involved in any of their state and local efforts." Through a spokesman, he has declined further comment.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax declined to comment on the situation at length in an interview with CapitolBeatOK. He said, “This is a very unusual situation, so we are seeking legal advice from our counsel at the Attorney General’s office about how to proceed.”
Neal Leader, a career assistant attorney general, is handling the issue for Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a Republican who was elected in 2010. Friday afternoon, Leader told CapitolBeatOK the office is acting as counsel, not issuing a formal A.G. opinion. Still, he asked both the national party and the state party leaders to send information to him. Leader said he anticipates a decision by the end of next week.
The legal question is whether the state will honor the wishes of the national party – “we’re outta here” – or the state party – “we’re in it, to win it.” Leader would not comment on his inclinations. However, Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, one of the nation’s leading analysts of ballot access issues, told CapitolBeatOK he believes by long-standing tradition state parties determine state party rules, including delegate selection and selection of electors.
Winger believes the state Americans Elect party’s electors will be on the November ballot. He argues from a long thread of evidence laid out in his August 2012 monthly newsletter (not available online until August 31).
Rex Lawhorn, state chairman of Americans Elect, submitted seven electors for the party’s nominee on August 7. The electors were pledged to support former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, for president, and James P. Gray for vice president. Johnson and Gray are already the nominees of the Libertarian Party, which does not have ballot status in Oklahoma.
In a letter dated August 6, Kahlil Byrd of the national party told the Oklahoma state election board the national party voted in July to terminate its status “as a qualified political party in all states in which it has so qualified.” Byrd’s letter conveyed “unanimous written consent” of the national group’s directors to withdraw the party’s “ballot line in all states in which Americans Elect has obtained a ballot access line.”
Ziriax announced March 10 that Americans Elect had qualified for a presidential ballot line.
Boren, former U.S. Senator and a one-term governor of Oklahoma, helped the group gather some 90,000 signatures, submitted to the state election board in late February.
At that time, Boren – stressing he was acting in a personal role and not in his current capacity as president of the University of Oklahoma, thanked Americans Elect “for assuring that Oklahomans and Americans will have a third alternative in the Presidential Election this November if it is needed.”
“If it is needed,” the group intended, Boren said then, to hold a nationwide online “convention” to pick a Democrat and a Republican “to run as a team for President and Vice President. It would be the first bipartisan national ticket in modern history.”
Ziriax said Americans Elect garnered 68,424 valid signatures in the petition process. The organization had filed a “Notice of Intent to Forum a Recognized Political Party” on October 3, 2011.
In contrast, the state Libertarian Party fell short of ballot status. Activists filed their notice of intent On May 3, 2011, then turned petitions in on March 1. However, only 41,070 valid signatures were turned in.
To secure a ballot line, petitioners had to gather a number (51,739) equal to five percent of the votes cast in the 2010 general election for governor.
Oklahoma election officials plan to prepare ballot materials in early September, to meet a September 21 deadline allowing timely distribution of absentee ballot materials to military personnel.
About the Author: Patrick B. McGuigan is editor of CapitolBeatOK, an online news service, and senior editor at The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City. He is the author of "The Politics of Direct Democracy: Case Studies in Popular Decision-Making" and of "Ninth Justice: The Fight for Bork." His essays appear regularly in Perspective, the monthly publication of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. McGuigan once served as Capital Editor for Tulsa Today where his work frequently appears.