Oklahoma’s statewide primary elections are Tuesday. I will be out of the country so I requested an absentee ballot. In the past I have found some of Oklahoma’s voting procedures to be unduly burdensome and unnecessary, and this experience was no different.
Take, for example, early voting. In Oklahoma, early voting is limited to one location per county. Oklahoma County’s site is not easily accessible to all residents. I can imagine people living near the county border, especially those without a reliable vehicle, those lacking childcare or those with unpredictable work schedules might not in practice have access to early voting.
The process by which voters proceed through the polls in Oklahoma County also strikes me as problematic. Once voters reach the table designated for their precinct they must declare their party affiliation. This information is a matter of public record, but the in-person nature of the declaration subjects voters differently to possible intimidation than when the information lives solely online. The privilege many of us have to vote in precincts where our views are those of the majority doesn’t extend to everyone who enters a polling place.
The process for absentee voting in Oklahoma is no less problematic. First, potential absentee voters must designate an “excuse.” While these declarations “benefit” — in the words of the Election Board — some voters in their quest to secure an absentee ballot, they can also be intrusive. This raises an unnecessary barrier to voting.
The second barrier to voting absentee is the requirement that an affidavit on the sealed ballot be notarized. I couldn’t easily find a list of notary publics online, so I went to a tag agency. The first person with whom I spoke tried to charge me $5 for the notarization — a blatant violation of the regulations for notarizing absentee ballot affidavits. In fact, most states do not require this additional step of notarization, something the ACLU has deemed one of the “unnecessary, burdensome, and often intrusive requirements that some states impose on voters requesting absentee ballots.”
Concerns over election tampering in our most recent presidential election reaffirm the importance of a secure elections system. However, these concerns must be balanced with the rights enshrined in the laws of this country — those of equal and unburdensome access to voting.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was an important tool in rooting out racial discrimination in our electoral process. The majority argued that, “The conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.” In her dissent, however, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg argued that it was the very existence of the Voting Rights Act that allowed for the rates of voter registration among minority populations to become and remain as strong as they are. Take away the act, Ginsberg argued, and the conditions of voter suppression will re-emerge.
State legislators and election officials should take Ginsberg’s words to heart with regard to Oklahoma’s early and absentee voting processes. The conditions imposed by the state make voting more difficult for some voters than others. This is the very thing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to prevent and to which we as citizens should remain vigilant.