Bill would allow survivors in address confidentiality program to sign petitions
As someone who has been threatened with a gun, Nicole Poindexter would have liked to sign an initiative petition that was circulating this summer to give Oklahoma voters a chance to repeal permitless carry.
But Poindexter, a survivor of domestic violence who is enrolled in an address confidentiality program to protect herself and her children, was unable to sign the petition. Doing so, she said, would have meant disclosing her actual address.
"It’s incredibly frustrating because I want to be an engaged citizen," Poindexter said. "I want to be involved in the process, and I’m being put on the sidelines because of the actions of somebody else. I feel like I’m less of a citizen than other people."
A state lawmaker hopes to change that. Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, filed legislation that would allow participants in Oklahoma's address confidentiality program to sign initiative or referendum petitions without disclosing their actual address.
"It allows those individuals to have an equal right to sign an initiative petition and not continue to be disenfranchised," Perryman said.
The address confidentiality program is designed to help protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking by providing them with a substitute address they can use when interacting with state and local government agencies.
The substitute address is a post office box number, which can be used as the participant's home, work and school address so a perpetrator can't find the victim through government records.
Survivors can use the address to enroll their children in school and for a driver's license, social services, child support, court documents and more.
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Perryman's bill would allow registered voters who are enrolled in the address confidentiality program to use the address given to them by the attorney general's office to sign an initiative or referendum petition.
Poindexter said it felt unfair that she couldn't sign the initiative petition on permitless carry or other initiative petitions unless she gave up her address.
"I had less of a voice than somebody else because of the actions of my abuser," she said.
Many women who experience domestic violence have had their voices silenced for so long that being able to participate in the democratic process is incredibly empowering, she said.
The address confidentiality program is administered by the Oklahoma attorney general's office. Staff from the attorney general's office forward mail that is received at the substitute address to the program participant.
More than 1,780 people are enrolled in the program, which is free for survivors for an unlimited amount of time. Survivors must renew their participation paperwork every four years.
Poindexter enrolled in the program several years ago after she moved into a YWCA shelter with her children to escape a domestic violence situation.
She said the program saves lives, and she wishes more domestic violence survivors would enroll. But she also wishes more state agencies would take advantage of training offered by the attorney general's office to learn about the program.
The program allows eligible voters to apply to vote as an absentee voter without their real addresses appearing on registered voter lists available to the public.
But the first two times Poindexter tried to vote, her ballot came in the mail days after the election. She contacted the attorney general's office and the state board of elections office, and staff at those agencies worked with her to resolve the issue.
She also faced difficulties using the P.O. box to get her driver's license and to become a notary.
When she got her driver's license, she had to argue with representatives at the tag agency, who got their supervisor involved. They called the Department of Public Safety and had to get a supervisor there involved, too, she said.
"Unfortunately, because there's no mechanism, you're having to stand there and advocate for yourself and do it in public … and explain your situation," Poindexter said.
At one point, she kept a copy of the statute that outlines the address confidentiality program in her desk drawer because she was encountering so many state agencies that didn't know the program existed and she was having to educate so many people about it.
She said she worries that some women who are facing the toughest battle of their lives in trying to escape an abusive situation might not have the wherewithal to keep fighting and to keep asking for the next supervisor. She'd like to make the process easier for them.
"That person at the department of public safety or the secretary of state's office or the state election board can make a difference between a woman having her voice and her safety or having to choose between the two," Poindexter said.
"If they're being forced between, say, they have to be a notary for their employment and keeping that address private, a lot of times they're going to choose the path of least resistance because they just don't have enough fight left in them."
Alex Gerszewski, communications director for the attorney general's office, said the program manager provided more than a dozen trainings between January and September last year. Agency representatives who would like to receive training can contact the attorney general's office.
"We have not received many complaints about the program," he said. "However, if victims in the program have issues, we encourage them to contact the program manager to see how they can be addressed."
How to get help
Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking can call 1-800-522-SAFE (7233) for help with safety planning, crisis intervention, emergency shelter and advocacy.
For more information about the address confidentiality program, call 1-866-227-7784.