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Point of View: Let's remove barriers to getting Oklahoma voters engaged

Oklahoma state Sen. Julia Kirt
Oklahoma state Sen. Julia Kirt

The 2020 presidential election saw record voter turnout as citizens overcame barriers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to make their voices heard. Record numbers of absentee ballots were requested, while lines on Election Day still wrapped around buildings.

While the total votes cast surpassed that of 2016, Oklahoma still ranked last in the nation in voter turnout rate. Only 55% of Oklahoma’s 2.85 million voting-eligible citizens cast a ballot in November, far below the national average of 66.4%. This is typical as our state’s voter registration has been well below the national average for more than 30 years.

So, what’s the holdup? Why aren’t all of our eligible citizens getting to the ballot box? After all, it’s one of our country’s most fundamental and sacred rights. I don’t believe for a second that it’s because Oklahomans don’t care. But I do believe we must remove barriers and streamline registering to vote so all eligible Oklahomans have access to the ballot. When we see this big of a gap between our statistics and other states, we must look at improving the systems.

Oklahoma is one of only 13 states that do not have an online voter registration system in place. Oklahoma’s antiquated process requires registering to vote in person by filling out a paper application.

The Legislature in 2015 authorized the more accessible e-voter registration system. However, the bill did not include a deadline for the website, and nearly six years later, our state is falling behind. That’s why I have filed Senate Bill 77 to require the state Election Board to establish this website by Dec. 31, 2021. The Department of Public Safety can verify voter identities in real time, which should give us the confidence to implement online registrations as soon as possible.

I also have filed SB 205, which would implement a process for registering eligible voters automatically when they get a state driver’s license or ID. Twenty other states automatically sign up voters. This is a common-sense streamlining of our voter system that protects the integrity of our elections while making the registration process fair and efficient.

Finally, my SB 103 would allow absentee voters, or their designee, to hand deliver their sealed ballot to their county election board instead of mailing it. Currently, an absentee voter may return their own ballot by hand, but an incapacitated voter may not. We must change this to make this process equitable for all absentee voters.

While we have made progress in engaging Oklahoma voters, barriers remain. It’s time we remove them, and I look forward to advocating for these measures when the legislative session kicks off next month and welcome your help.

Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, represents Senate District 30.