By Paul R. Hollrah, Guest Blogger
When I first moved to Oklahoma from New York in 1963, Tulsa was known far and wide as the Oil Capital of the World. Other than possessing more miles of lake frontage than any other state in the nation, Oklahoma was not among the nation’s leaders in any other category, with one possible exception: the state could easily have won the title of Vote Fraud Capital of the World.
While attending my very first political meeting in September 1963, I learned how Oklahoma elections were won and lost. I learned, for instance, that in forty-four of the state’s seventy-seven counties, there was no such thing as a secret ballot on Election Day. Since statehood in 1907, Democrats has systematically denied voters the right to a secret ballot; there were no voting booths and no voting machines. Voter intimidation was widespread.
Between 1963 and the fall of 1966, I organized and led a statewide election reform program called “Operation: Secret Ballot.” Over a period of months in the summer and fall of 1966, using donated funds, all volunteer labor, and a borrowed West Tulsa factory building, we built enough voting booths to supply from 800 to 1,000 precincts. And when we had threats on our lives if we attempted to deliver voting booths to some rural counties, the Oklahoma National Guard provided troops and trucks to make the deliveries.
In the 1966 general election, with our voting booths in use all across the state and Democrats afraid not to use them, we elected the state’s second Republican governor and the state’s first Republican attorney general. It was the biggest dose of political reform in state history and a major factor in the political renaissance that has made Oklahoma one of the reddest of red states. Now, some 45 years later, all of that is in the past and Oklahoma has become the national model for anti-fraud legislation.
For example, Oklahoma law now provides that each person appearing to vote “shall provide proof of identity,” where “proof of identity” is defined as a document that shows the name and photograph of the person to whom the ID was issued, an expiration date, and the identity of the issuing authority… the United States government, the State of Oklahoma, or the government of a federally recognized Indian tribe or nation. If a person declines or is unable to provide proof of identity, the voter may sign a statement, under oath, affirming that he/she is the person listed on the precinct registry. False swearing or affirming under oath is a felony crime.
Like most other states, Oklahoma has had difficulties with absentee ballot fraud. In one rural county, a single “mobile notary public service” requested and received 250 absentee ballots in one election. Under a new section of Oklahoma law, “Any person who knowingly executes a false application for an absentee ballot shall be guilty of a felony.”
In 2004, the New York Daily News reported the results of a study which showed that some 46,000 people, more than 70 percent of them Democrats, were registered to vote in both New York City and in Florida. Only 12 percent were Republicans. Researching previous elections, the Daily News found well over 400 voters who had voted in both New York and Florida in the 2000 general election… a Florida election that George W. Bush won by just 537 votes.
Oklahoma law now provides that, if a registered voter who has requested an absentee ballot attempts to vote in person on election day, that voter is required to sign an affidavit swearing or affirming that he/she did not cast the requested absentee ballot and is, therefore, entitled to vote in person. Falsely signing such an affidavit under oath is a felony crime.
Under amendments passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by former Democratic Governor Brad Henry, Oklahoma election laws were substantially strengthened, effective January 1, 2011:
- Under Section 16-102 of the law, “Any person who votes more than once at any election, who votes in a precinct after having transferred voter registration to a new precinct, or who, knowing that he or she is not eligible to vote at an election, willfully votes at said election, shall be guilty of a felony.”
- Also under Section 16-102, “Any uniformed or overseas voter who willingly votes and submits an absentee ballot later than the day of the election, and any person who knowingly votes and submits an absentee ballot issued to another person, shall be deemed guilty of a felony.” The mobile notary public that requested and received 250 absentee ballots is now out of business.
- Under Section 16-102, subsection 3, the new Oklahoma law states that, “Any unauthorized person who knowingly removes a ballot from a polling place or who knowingly carries a ballot into a polling place shall be deemed guilty of a felony.”
- Under Section 16-103, “Any person who knowingly swears or affirms a false affidavit in order to become eligible to vote, to obtain and vote a provisional ballot, or to obtain and vote an absentee ballot, or to cause the cancellation of a qualified elector’s voter registration, shall be deemed guilty of a felony.”
- Section 16-103.1 of the Oklahoma law, what might be referred to as the anti-ACORN clause, provides that “any person who knowingly causes any qualified elector to be invalidly registered, who knowingly causes any unqualified person to be registered, or who knowingly causes the collection or submission of voter registration forms containing false, fraudulent, or fictitious information shall be deemed guilty of a felony.”
- A newly amended section of Oklahoma law, Section 16-105A, should be sufficient to cause fraud-minded Democrats to lose a lot of sleep. The section reads as follows: “Any person who knowingly conspires to commit fraud or perpetrates fraud, or who steals supplies used to conduct an election, in order to change a voter’s vote, or to change the composition of the official ballot or ballots, or to change the counting of the ballots, or to change the certification of the results of an election, shall be deemed guilty of a felony.”
In the 1968 General Election, while serving as a ballot security officer in the eastern Oklahoma ballot security office, I received a telephone call from a Cherokee County Republican official who reported that a person or persons unknown had stolen all of the Republican presidential ballots for that county. When we advised that we would have attorneys on the way to Cherokee County within minutes, the informant suggested that he was certain he knew who had stolen the ballots and that he would attempt to retrieve them.
We recommended against such unilateral action because of the dangers involved. Unfortunately, our advice went unheeded. Our informant was found several hours later in a rural roadside ditch in Cherokee County. He had been beaten nearly to death with lengths of heavy log chain. He had found the stolen ballots, but it could have cost him his life.
But what is most significant about the new law is the change in penalties that became effective on January 1st. While the earlier statute provided that, “Any person deemed guilty of a felony under provisions of this act shall, upon conviction, be confined in the State Penitentiary for not more than two (2) years, or fined not more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000), or both,” the amended law increases penalties for the above-described offenses to incarceration for a period not to exceed five years, or a fine of not more than $50,000, or both.
The new Oklahoma law should be sufficient to inform those who would attempt to steal elections through fraud, violence, and intimidation that there are now serious penalties for doing so. What is left undone is a public information campaign to inform Republican election officials and the voting public of the provision of the new law so that they can bring the guilty to justice.
In 2008, Oklahoma (77 counties) was the only state, other than Alaska (27 counties), in which a majority of voters in every county voted for John McCain and Sarah Palin. Then, in the 2010 General Election, the people of Oklahoma elected a Republican Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Labor Commissioner, State Auditor, Insurance Commissioner, and Superintendent of Public Instruction, all positions previously held by Democrats.
In the state legislature, Republicans gained eight House seats, going from a 62-39 to a 70-31 majority, and six Senate seats, going from a 26-22 to a 32-16 majority. In terms of party registration, CapitolBeatOK reports that, through January 15, 2011, there were 2,090,130 registered voters in Oklahoma. Between January 15, 2010 and January 15, 2011, Democrats increased their numbers by 88, from 999,855 to 999,943, while Republican registrations increased by 36,174, from 813,158 to 849,332.
With both houses of the state legislature in Republican hands, a Republican governor, and a Republican attorney general, Oklahomans have every expectation that they can be assured of open and honest elections. It is a record of major accomplishment. If Oklahoma leads the way, other states can do it as well.
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