Opinion: ‘Suppressive’ Oklahoma voting system exacerbated by COVID-19

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Lani Habrock, CAIR Government Affairs Director.

COVID-19 has exposed gaps in many of America’s infrastructures. One such revealed crack is Oklahoma’s outdated and suppressive voting system.

On Monday, May 4, the Oklahoma Supreme Court took a positive first step in strengthening our democracy. A landmark ruling allowing valid absentee ballots with a signature, (under penalty of law) doing away with the notary public seal requirement.

Safety of our citizens is a by-product of this ruling, as this is likely to reduce polling place population on election day. Oklahoma was only one of three states in the country still holding this archaic requirement.

And for a brief moment we removed a bureaucratic step in the voting process.

However, immediately following this move, leadership at the Oklahoma Legislature filed SB 210, reinstating the original requirement of notarization.

Ironically, all those who voted in favor did so at a socially appropriate distance of six feet, many wearing masks, and still more from the safety of their isolated offices, voting by proxy.

If enacted, SB 210 is a dangerous step backwards. The most pressing issue we are facing today is protecting our democracy in a pandemic.

How do we ensure all Oklahomans can vote without being in danger of contracting a deadly virus?

The notary requirement is not just an accessibility problem, it is a public health concern. Absentee voting allows people to skip the election day line. But, for many, it merely changes the line they are standing in — rather than the line at a polling place, it becomes the line at another public facility employing a notary. This does little to limit exposure for those most vulnerable.

Of those age 65 and older, 64 percent voted in the 2018 election, a demographic at high risk of dying from the coronavirus.

COVID-19 will not pause for our June 30th election.

Unnecessary barriers to voting do more to undermine our democracy than protect it. And Oklahomans should never be forced to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional right to vote.

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