State Officials Expect a `Friendly' Lawsuit over Absentee Ballots

THE JOURNAL RECORD, September 12, 2002 | Go to article overview

State Officials Expect a `Friendly' Lawsuit over Absentee Ballots


Oklahoma is about to be sued by the federal government over how it handles overseas ballots in its runoff election.

Sound familiar?

That's because the same thing happened in 1998.

Like then, the lawsuit expected to be filed is a "friendly" suit designed to authorize the State Election Board to count absentee ballots cast by members of the military and other Oklahomans living abroad after election day on Tuesday.

"With three weeks, there's just no way that the overseas voter in a federal race has an ability to get a ballot back to us in time, so we're being sued by the Justice Department," said board Secretary Michael Clingman.

The federal agency is stepping in because the state's three-week time period between its primary and runoff elections jeopardizes ballots that will be cast in the Democratic primary for a federal office, U.S. Senate. Former Gov. David Walters and Tulsa attorney Tom Boettcher are vying to be the Democratic nominee against U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe.

"It would just give us authority to count votes after the runoff's over to give people a chance to get overseas votes in," Clingman said. "We anticipate that to happen. Once it's happened, we're going to not certify that election until overseas voters have a chance to get their ballots in for two weeks."

Having the same federal intervention twice in four years would seem to argue for a change in Oklahoma election law, but Clingman doesn't see that happening any time soon. "We have not authority to count those late unless a judge or somebody orders us to do so. We understand that we're out of compliance with the federal law on the voter rights act."

Clingman said that federal authorities asked the state in 1998 to take steps to remedy the situation. Legislation was introduced to do away with the runoff or extend the time between the two elections.

"None of that passed and probably none of that would pass again," he said. "The idea would be perhaps we'll work on legislation next year ... We don't know yet what we'll recommend, but one possibility would be to recommend the runoff be eliminated from federal races. If you want to keep it for state races, fine, but for federal races that does decide it. That way there would be no issue. Or at the very least, enact in statute a late counting procedure, something like that, to prevent this from happening again."

In 1998, only a dozen absentee ballots came in from overseas during the two weeks after the runoff, the agreed-upon extension of time for counting ballots. They did not affect the outcome of any runoff contests.

Discussing business ethics

"Ethical Standards: Are They Part of the Job or Part of the Person?" will be the next presentation in the Oklahoma City University's Meinders School of Business' Brown Bag Lectures Series.

The program will be presented by Dave Carmichael at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Noble Center for Competitive Enterprise at OCU.

The series will continue Oct. 22 with "Enron's (Pandora's) Box," looking at the accounting and financial management failures at Enron, WorldCom and other large companies in the media spotlight. The panel will include Wayne Counts, accounting professor; Pat Fitzgerald, business ethics professor; Ron Shaw, finance professor; Alvin Harrell, law professor; and Socorro Quintero, executive compensation professor.

The series will continue Nov. 19 with "The Red Queen Theory: Implications for Us and the Organization," by Professor Bo Monnot; Jan. 21 with "Risky Business," by Professor Jacque Bergman; Feb. 18 with "Now is the Time to Prepare for Your 2003 Taxes" by Professor Wayne Counts; March 25 with "What Good Are Big-Time Sports?" by Jonathon Willner with senior economics students Dennis Noll and Miles Gordon; and April 21 with "Smart Cards and the Mess They will Make of Our Personal Lives" by Professor Ken Carlton. …

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