Absentee ballots (copy)

Absentee ballots are sorted in 2014 at the Tulsa County Election Board. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World file

The Oklahoma Legislature has overturned an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that eliminated a requirement for absentee ballots to be notarized.

The Supreme Court’s ruling was based on contradictions within state law, but it had an important effect: It meant Oklahoma voters wouldn’t have to risk their health during a pandemic by either going to polling places on election days or by getting absentee ballots notarized.

Acting under imagined concerns about voter fraud, the Legislature passed and Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 210, which reinstates notary requirements for elections after 2020.

If the governor has declared a health state of emergency related to COVID-19 within 45 days of a scheduled election in 2020, the law provides absentee voters can avoid the notary requirement by providing a photocopy of an appropriate voter ID when they return their absentee ballots.

Those rules will probably be in effect for June’s statewide primary. Depending on what the governor does with a statewide emergency order, they could be in effect for the August runoff election and the November general election, but the special provisions expire at the end of 2020, meaning most absentee voters will have to get their ballots notarized thereafter, which serves no purpose except making it harder for citizens to exercise their right to vote.

The photocopy provision for the 2020 elections leaves out some voters, although most determined voters will be able to figure out a way to make it work.

Reinstating the notary requirement after 2020 is clearly designed to restrict voting and will do nothing to deter people from committing voter fraud, which isn’t much of a threat in the first place. If the ID copy rule is safe enough for 2020, there’s no reason not to make it permanent.

The vast majority of states have figured out how to conduct fair, safe elections without relying on a needlessly difficult notary process.

If the Legislature were serious about voter fraud, it would have acted on proposals to increase criminal penalties for voter fraud. The members of the Legislature must think something good results from an election where relatively few people participate.

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