OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s rewritten ballot titles for two state questions are “misleading and partial.”
In its ruling, the state’s high court rewrote the ballot titles, which give a description of the criminal justice reform measures appearing on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.
Supporters of State Questions 780 and 781 challenged Pruitt’s revisions before the Supreme Court.
SQ 780 would reclassify certain low-level offenses — such as drug possession and some property offenses of less than $1,000 — as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
If approved by voters, supporters say, SQ 780 would generate cost savings for the state by reducing the growing prison population.
Petitioners allege Pruitt’s revised ballot title includes emotionally charged examples selected to evoke fearful images. They also allege Pruitt’s rewritten ballot title uses examples that are unrepresentative, contain emotionally charged terms and are deliberately calculated to elicit opposition to the measure.
SQ 781 would invest the cost savings into rehabilitation programs to treat addiction and mental health conditions.
Pruitt’s proposed language improperly expresses skepticism regarding the merits or likelihood of success by stating that the measure presumes it will save the state money, petitioners say.
The changed language is the equivalent of an argument against the proposal, they allege.
Pruitt’s office argued that the changed language explained the effects of the state questions in a clear and objective manner.
“We find the rewritten ballot titles to be misleading and partial,” the court opinion states. “However, we conclude neither of the parties’ proposed ballot titles sufficiently describe the measures involved.”
“The Attorney General’s Office is disappointed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision and we believe the substitute ballot title does not adequately explain the effects of the measure,” said Will Gattenby, a Pruitt spokesman.
The state questions were put on the ballot after a successful initiative petition drive by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.
The measures were championed by former House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City. Steele and Young were among those filing a challenge to Pruitt’s rewritten ballot title.
“I truly believe the process has worked the way it is intended to work,” Steele said. “I commend the Supreme Court for doing their job with dispatch. I think that the Supreme Court’s description of the reforms contained in State Question 780 and State Question 781 are accurate. The reforms that the voters will be asked to consider in November will be easy to understand based on the Supreme Court’s decision.”