Law & Principles
Ray Carter | March 3, 2021
Senate votes to prevent last-minute election changes
Oklahoma government officials could not alter state election laws through court settlements under legislation approved by the Oklahoma Senate.
The legislation was touted as a way to prevent the last-minute changes that fueled concern about election security in other states last year.
“After the conclusion of the November 2020 elections, many of us were contacted by constituents with questions and concerns not only about the results from some states, but also about the processes and procedures that happened in those states,” said Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle. “After lengthy discussions with those constituents, there were concerns that the controversies that happened in other states could happen here. Senate Bill 523 was written to try to deal with those concerns.”
Senate Bill 523, by Paxton, prevents any “political subdivision, agency or officer” in Oklahoma government from entering “into a legal agreement or court settlement that prescribes election procedures that conflict with procedures prescribed by the Legislature in statute.”
In the leadup to the 2020 presidential election, several states abruptly changed election procedures and eliminated practices viewed as safeguards against fraud. Among those states was Pennsylvania, where the secretary of state settled a lawsuit by agreeing to alter the signature-verification requirement required by that state's laws. Similarly, Michigan’s secretary of state permitted absentee ballot applications online, despite lacking authorization to do so in Michigan statutes, while a lawsuit settlement in Georgia effectively set aside a state law requiring signature verification for absentee ballots.
A number of states, including Oklahoma, later filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of those states’ actions. That challenge was unsuccessful.
Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said Oklahoma is not like those states.
“We just don’t have these concerns in Oklahoma, because we have a very, very solid system set up for our electoral process and we’re recognized throughout the nation for having a very secure electoral process,” Floyd said. “I believe that we’re doing everything right. I believe that through a very, very difficult year and a very, very difficult election, that we are an example to the rest of the nation on how this can be done. And I find this unnecessary.”
Paxton agreed that Oklahoma elections have been well run but added that the 2020 controversies arose “in other states that were also traditionally run very, very well” before election laws were changed without legislative approval.
“People went outside of the legislature under the auspices of ‘emergencies,’ under the issues of the pandemic, to change election laws outside of the realm of the legislature.” Paxton said. “I don’t want to get into were the election results valid, was there fraud and corruption. I’m just looking at the processes that led up to the elections that left tens of millions of Americans questioning whether President Biden actually got those votes. That is bad for our system whether it’s a Democrat or whether it’s a Republican, and when the processes are circumvented, that’s when there’s problems.”
Senate Bill 523 passed the Oklahoma Senate on a 37-8 vote that broke along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.