Monday, April 19, 2010

Common Sense Election Reforms

During last week's update I wrote about the opportunity for individuals to change government by getting involved in local civic affairs. In that update I referenced a recent report by the group Oklahomans for Responsible Government documenting the very low voter turnout in recent local level elections. Some of the respondents to that update referenced the challenge that residents face in having a voice in local affairs.

The foremost challenge involves the large number of possible election dates which occur. Frequently, initiatives which raise taxes on all of the people (such as property tax bond issues) are voted into law by a small fraction of the electorate on a day when many are unaware that an election is even occurring. Those wishing to pass a tax increase can strategize by calling the election for the tax increase on one of these elections days.

This presents a special problem for those who live in rural areas. For instance, residents of one Logan County precinct who live in part of the precinct which is experiencing a significant amount of residential growth must drive about 15 miles to the other end of the precinct in order to vote. This problem will likely be corrected with upcoming redistricting; however, the distance has served as a detriment to those who would otherwise vote.

I know there are times when distance issues, for example, are unavoidable. However, I don't feel that those desiring tax increases should be able to pick an election date where there is little likelihood for a strong turnout.

Last year I served as the primary House author of a Senate Bill authored by Senator Clark Jolly which would consolidate the number of days when an election could be held. Fewer possible election days would mean that more people would have the opportunity to vote on local proposals such as school board elections, city council elections and local tax increases.

If voters knew that elections would only be held on two or three days each year, they could plan on voting on those days and would not have to worry about missing an election because they did not hear about it. In addition, I believe that tax increase proposals should only be allowed to occur on the same day as a general election when the politicians attempting to pass the tax increase are also on the ballot.

I am also a huge proponent for the televised and online display of video content from all governing board meetings. This would allow individuals to stay informed from the convenience of their own homes and on a schedule that works for them.

I believe these are common sense answers to the very large problem of governing boards operating under the radar with little citizen oversight.

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