Legislation to place new signature-gathering burdens on ballot initiative proponents, sponsored by the second-ranking Republican in the state Senate, drew critical scrutiny in debate this week. The measure nonetheless secured four more votes than needed for a bare majority in the upper chamber.
With several members not voting, Senate Joint Resolution 37 passed 28-15 on Thursday, but not until after the author, Sen. Mike Schulz of Altus, faced questions from members of both parties. Schulz is the Senate Majority Leader, second in command to Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman of Sapulpa.
Presently, initiative petitioners must gather a number of signatures equal to 8 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. That number represented a reform of the process, shifting the signature numbers away from presidential elections, when turnout is highest. It was intended to ease the burden on petitioning groups.
S.J.R. 37 proposes a constitutional amendment that would require initiative petitioners to reach the 8 percent threshold in all five congressional districts. As a practical matter, that means advocates would have to develop five (not one) sets of assumptions about possible “bad signatures,” rather than one. The would mean a hefty increase in signature goals for all initiative petition drives.
Schulz insisted the measure would bring “equality” to the petitioning process, by forcing circulators to work throughout the state. Sen. Clark Jolley, an Edmond Republican, closely questioned the shift. Sen. Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City, leader of Democrats, also challenged Schulz’s assertions.