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Poll shows Democrats and Republicans agree independents and third parties deserve spot at the table


Scott Cooper May 6th, 2010

There is encouraging news for independent political members and Oklahomans who want easier election ballot access: A solid majority of your fellow citizens agree with you.A new survey conducted by Soo...

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There is encouraging news for independent political members and Oklahomans who want easier election ballot access: A solid majority of your fellow citizens agree with you.

A new survey conducted by SoonerPoll.com reveals overwhelming support to allow independents the right to vote in primary elections, and that third-party candidates should have fewer restrictions when trying to get on election ballots.

"There is broad-based desire to not keep the status quo," said Keith Gaddie, SoonerPoll.com's vice president and University of Oklahoma political science professor.

Graph: Should it be easier for other political parties to get on the ballot in Oklahoma?

According to the poll, more than 62 percent agree registered independents should be able to choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican party primaries each election year; 31 percent said no.

On the issue of making ballot access easier, the number is even greater for third-party candidates: More than 66 percent said the process should be made easier, while less than 20 percent disapproved.

Conducted between April 5-12, the survey queried 500 Oklahomans and has a 4.38 percent margin of error.

At least a dozen states offer an open primary, and one state allows it only when one party is having a primary.

The idea has wide support along the political spectrum. All groups, from the very liberal to the very conservative, like the thought of independents voting in primaries, with liberals a little more supportive than conservatives. But all groups favored the move by at least 61 percent.

Among party affiliation, Democrats had more support for the move than Republicans by 7 percentage points, 63.8 percent to 56.3 percent.

"It is the position of the Oklahoma Republican Party that primaries should be for party nominees, and thus, candidates chosen to represent a party should be chosen by members of that party," said Gary Jones, head of the state Republican Party.

The state Democratic Party platform takes a similar stance, but the party chairman feels that may change.

"The state Democratic Party's constitution clearly binds us to allow only Democrats to vote in Democratic primaries," said state Democratic Party chairman Todd Goodman. "That being said, I have had discussions with many party leaders about whether it would be beneficial to allow independents to vote in our primaries. The way in which state election laws are currently set seems to encourage parties to maintain a closed primary and, in effect, disenfranchises independent voters from part of the election process. I believe there is room for some reforms."

On the issue of ballot access, the established parties are in tune with the poll results, which show two-thirds of respondents believe greater access should be given to third-party candidates.

"Right now, Oklahoma laws set the bar nearly impossibly high for any other party to get on the ballot, and that can have unforeseen consequences," Goodman said. "For example, I think that the Tea Party movement in part reflects a frustration on the part of some Oklahomans that their voices and views are not being heard, and some of the rhetoric might ease up if they were better able to field their own candidates for office. I think both parties should work with the state to revisit these policies and consider some reforms."

Jones quoted from the state Republican Party platform: "We support less restrictive ballot access for all political parties, candidates and ballot initiatives."

Graph: Should voters registered as independents be allowed to vote in Oklahoma primaries?

State Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, a candidate for governor this year, co-authored a bill with Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City, that would reduce the amount of signatures needed to form a new political party. Currently, that number stands at 5 percent of the total voting population in the last general election, which would be at least 73,000 signatures. Under Brodgon's bill, the number would change to 5 percent of Oklahomans who voted in the last gubernatorial election, which would make the new mark 46,000 signatures.

The bill is currently hung up in a legislative conference committee.

But Gaddie warned even if reforms are enacted, it will still be a high mountain for third parties to win elections.

"There is no incentive for candidates to move into a third party, because the votes just are not there to win," said Gaddie. "You can draw a district in Oklahoma City where a Green Party candidate could win. But once they get to the Legislature, they are going to have to caucus with a (Republican or Democratic) party. Otherwise, they are not going to get access to committee assignments or staff resources." "Scott Cooper

Polls source: SoonerPoll.com
 
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