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Oklahoma’s absentee voting rules have changed. Here's what to know

Volunteers set up to provide free notary for mail-in ballots at the First Unitarian Church Saturday, October 24, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
Volunteers set up to provide free notary for mail-in ballots at the First Unitarian Church Saturday, October 24, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

Absentee voters in Oklahoma can no longer include a photocopy of a valid identification card to certify their mail-in ballot.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, state election measures designed to allow Oklahomans some flexibility while voting during the health crisis expired at the end of 2020.

A Democratic state lawmaker said the cutoff was shortsighted and didn’t take into account the magnitude of the pandemic.

In May, the GOP-led Oklahoma Legislature approved legislation to reinstate a requirement that absentee voters must have their absentee ballots notarized after the Oklahoma Supreme Court court struck down the requirement.

Senate Bill 210, authored by Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, also offered alternative election procedures for calendar year 2020 in the event Gov. Kevin Stitt had declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic within 45 days of an election.

“This measure upholds

the integrity of our absentee ballot process while also making it easier to vote absentee during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic all in an attempt to protect the health and safety of voters and election workers,” Treat said in a May news release.

The legislation:

• Allowed voters to submit absentee ballots with a copy of their identification or voter identification card in lieu of having the ballot notarized

• Broadened the definition of “physically incapacitated” voters to include Oklahomans suffering from symptoms of COVID-19 or those at high risk of facing complications from the virus. Physically incapacitated voters can have their absentee ballot signature witnessed by two people in lieu of having the ballot notarized.

• Made it easier for residents in long-term care facilities to vote absentee.

The absentee voting changes are reflected in the instructions sent out with every absentee ballot and updated instructions have been posted on the State Election Board’s website, said board spokeswoman Misha Mohr.

Whether ID copies will be allowed for future Oklahoma elections is a decision that will be up to the Legislature, Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said in a statement.

“Although ID copies for absentee voter verification are not as secure as notarization, the Legislature’s temporary allowance of ID copies in lieu of notarization in 2020 provided a reasonable balance between convenience and security for absentee voting during the pandemic,” he said.

Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, said she’s concerned the change will be confusing to voters who may have just got used to voting absentee. She said she’s answered questions about the change from numerous constituents.

Many Oklahoma counties have municipal or school board elections on the ballot on Feb. 9. A special election for a state Senate seat will be on the ballot on Feb. 9. In parts of Oklahoma and Canadian counties, a special election will be held for a state Senate seat.

“The statute that was passed last year was only for 2020 health emergencies related to COVID, so it was very limited in scope,” she said. “I think we really didn’t prepare for long-term needs like if the pandemic continued like it has.”

Kirt said she thinks notarization is too great a barrier for absentee voters to certify their ballots. Notarization is confusing to many Oklahomans who may not know what that term means or don’t know where to find a notary public, she said.

The Oklahoma State Election Board has a list of notary services by county on its website.

Kirt said she’s not convinced ID copies are the best alternative, saying the State Election Board couldn’t provide data on how frequently absentee voters used the alternative verification option. However, she doesn’t want the Legislature to implement any more temporary election measures.

“My concern is that we’re very quick to be proud of the integrity of Oklahoma’s elections, and I am, too,” she said. “I think a true and full election counts all our eligible voters voices. If people are turned away or can’t get their votes counted because of too many barriers, that’s not a complete election either.”

The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the Feb. 9 election is 5 p.m. Feb. 2.

Reporter Carmen Forman covers state government, politics and the COVID-19 pandemic for The Oklahoman. Send story tips to cforman@oklahoman.com or connect on Twitter with @CarmenMForman. Support the work of Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a print or digital subscription today at oklahoman.com/subscribe.

Related Photos
<strong>A voter fills out her ballot at the Mayridge Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]</strong>

A voter fills out her ballot at the Mayridge Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f8e56f60b6d5c44e30a05e71a5af6289.jpg" alt="Photo - A voter fills out her ballot at the Mayridge Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" A voter fills out her ballot at the Mayridge Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> A voter fills out her ballot at the Mayridge Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a508da8743fa4a51fe055c61e971eb7d.jpg" alt="Photo - Nancy Sangirardi, a Republican candidate for House District 46 and a former educator, entices motorists to stop and have mail-in ballots notarized at a drive-thru ballot notarization stand in Norman on Oct. 10, 2020 in Norman, Okla. [Steve Sisney/For The Oklahoman] " title=" Nancy Sangirardi, a Republican candidate for House District 46 and a former educator, entices motorists to stop and have mail-in ballots notarized at a drive-thru ballot notarization stand in Norman on Oct. 10, 2020 in Norman, Okla. [Steve Sisney/For The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Nancy Sangirardi, a Republican candidate for House District 46 and a former educator, entices motorists to stop and have mail-in ballots notarized at a drive-thru ballot notarization stand in Norman on Oct. 10, 2020 in Norman, Okla. [Steve Sisney/For The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-65a4b0160f87d49c5db2fe336b8fd911.jpg" alt="Photo - Volunteers set up to provide free notary for mail-in ballots at the First Unitarian Church Saturday, October 24, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] " title=" Volunteers set up to provide free notary for mail-in ballots at the First Unitarian Church Saturday, October 24, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Volunteers set up to provide free notary for mail-in ballots at the First Unitarian Church Saturday, October 24, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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