We fulfilled our constitutional duty this week by sending a balanced budget to Gov. Stitt. 

            Given the hard times Oklahoma has faced the last couple of months, the outcome was better than expected.  The FY’21 budget is $7.7 billion, which is only 3% or $237.8 million less than the current year’s budget.  We’re fortunate that we had so much in emergency savings.

            Although the governor and Equalization Board certified that Oklahoma would be facing a $1.3 billion revenue shortfall, we were able to balance the budget with state savings, cutting one-time spending, and temporarily redirecting non-appropriated funds.

            We also reduced agency budgets by 4% or less. Those that provide more critical services will see smaller cuts. We’re optimistic, though, that the state’s economy is going to recover, and we can restore some of the funding through supplementals next session. 

            I’m glad that education was one of the agencies with the lowest cuts.  We’ve worked so hard to increase pay, lower class sizes and get more money into classrooms the last several years.  The Department of Education’s budget will receive a temporary 2.5%, or $78 million, cut to its $3 billion appropriation.  However, the agency is receiving $200 million in federal relief funds that will cover the loss.  There are several other agencies receiving substantial federal relief as well. 

            You can review the budget (SB 1922) on our website at www.oksenate.gov under legislation and bill summary.

            This past week, we also approved, and the Governor signed, SB 210.  This bill was necessary given that the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled last week that having absentee ballots notarized was unlawful.  This bill creates an alternative for the 2020 election year.  It allows those who submit absentee ballots to provide an identification card with their ballot instead of having them notarized. It also sets a process for absentee ballots to be delivered to registered voters residing in nursing homes or veterans’ centers to ensure these Oklahomans get to participate in 2020 elections.

            Increasing access to voting has been a long-debated topic in our state and nation. There’s strong debate on both sides. Absentee ballots have been required to be notarized since 1956 to help properly identify individuals and prevent voter fraud.

            Voting was viewed by our Founding Fathers as a privilege, not a right. Originally, only property owners could vote because property taxes provided the funds for public services. Andrew Jackson pushed for the elimination of this requirement.

            There are various institutional barriers to voting including, among others, an age restriction; having to be registered; voting location requirements; citizenship and residence requirements; re-registering after a move; restrictions in primary elections to your selected party; and restrictions for convicted felons.  

            There is no right to vote outside of these restrictive privileges. There are numerous reports of hundreds of individuals who show up at the polls each election that aren’t registered and can’t vote. There are stories of attempts to use others’ identities to vote.  If you don’t meet the requirements, you can’t vote.

            The Voting Rights Act of 1964 was directed to prevent States from enacting restrictions on voting based on race; color, creed or sex. The Act didn’t remove the institutional barriers to voting. 

            There is a difference between a right and a privilege. A right is a guarantee at birth as an American citizen. A privilege is the opportunity granted by the citizens of a State based on certain qualifications stipulated in law.

            As a Civics and U.S. History teacher for 38 years, I always tried to instill in my students the importance of voting, but also why there must be rules to protect the system and our government.

            Having said that, voting participation has been decreasing. We must work to make it easier for people to participate while protecting voters and the election system. 

            The State Election Board Secretary related to legislators that it would be impossible to guarantee the integrity of a primary election without the positive identification of registered voters using absentee ballots.

            The integrity and confidence of election results are essential to a democratic republic. Therefore, SB 210 had to be approved.  We must protect our government and citizens’ right to vote during this historic pandemic.

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