Lawmaker resignations cause growing special election costs for state
With various legislator scandals and resignations, the Oklahoma State Election Board is on track to spend as much as a quarter of a million dollars on special elections this year.
Eight state legislators have resigned their seats early since Dec. 31, 2016.
Along with multiple resignations due to various sex and malfeasance scandals at the Oklahoma Legislature, a few lawmakers also have stepped down over the past year to take new full-time jobs. Among three special elections scheduled for Nov. 14 is one to replace Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow, who died while in office.
The Oklahoma State Election Board does not have firm numbers on the cost of each special election but estimates put the cost of filling these empty seats at $194,000 to $250,000, said Bryan Dean, spokesman for the election board.
The cost of a special election ranges between $10,000 and $24,000 for a state representative and $18,000 to $44,000 for a state senate seat.
Oklahoma could also be on the hook this fiscal year to pay for a much costlier U.S. congressional election.
President Donald Trump has nominated U.S. Rep Jim Bridenstine to serve as the next administrator of NASA. If the Senate confirms Bridenstine this year, the election board won't have enough money at its current level of funding to pay for the election this fiscal year, Dean said.
A special election for a U.S. congressional seat costs the state much more than for a state legislator's seat — somewhere between $200,000 and $600,000, depending on whether there is a runoff in addition to a primary and general election, Dean said.
The state has no emergency fund for special elections. If Bridenstine steps down before Jan. 1, the election board will have to ask the Oklahoma Legislature for supplemental funding to pay for the congressional election.
"We try to carry over some money if possible for these sorts of scenarios," Dean said in an email. "If we do not need a congressional special election, we can likely make everything work within our current budget."
Two special session bills at the Legislature propose making state lawmakers who step down early pay for special elections.
State Rep. Zack Taylor R-Seminole, has filed a bill that would force lawmakers found guilty of misconduct to forfeit their retirement benefits and remaining campaign funds.
Taylor, himself, was elected in a special election on May 9 to replace Rep. Tom Newell, who resigned Dec. 31 to work for the free-market think tank The Foundation for Government Accountability.
The freshman legislator said he believes House Bill 1067 would hold lawmakers more accountable for their actions while in office.
"There's been a lot of disorderly resignations over the past two years and it's kind of broken trust with the Oklahoma voters," Taylor said. "The Oklahoma people have been disappointed and lawmakers have not really been held accountable for the cost of the special elections they cause."
State Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, has filed a bill that proposes forcing lawmakers to pay for special elections with their remaining campaign funds if they resign for dishonorable reasons or are expelled or removed from office by law.
"With just the cascade of special elections from resignations from bad actors and all the other reasons, it's becoming a bit of a financial burden to the state," Standridge said.