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Capitol Insider EXTRA: Election Security, Ballot Selfies And More

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Thomas Benedetti, right, 3, holds onto his mother, Amy Benedetti, left, as she votes in Edmond, Okla., Tuesday, March 6, 2012.

In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley are joined by Bryan Dean of the Oklahoma State Election Board. The three discuss new voter registration numbers, election security, expanding, early voting and whether you can snap a selfie with your ballot. 

Listen to the on-air version of this conversation.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and elections. I'm Dick Prior with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. And Shawn, our guest is Bryan Dean, Public Information Officer for the State Election Board. Welcome, Bryan.

Bryan Dean: Good to be with you.

Shawn Ashley: Bryan, the State Election Board has just released new voter registration numbers. What do those numbers show?

Dean: We've had about 100,000 new voters since January. We are almost 100,000, again, over where we were this time four years ago for the 2014 gubernatorial election. In fact ,we also have more registered voters this year than we had for the 2012 presidential [election]. We aren't quite at 2016 levels, but the fact that our voter registration numbers are on par with what we see more in presidential years than what we've seen in recent gubernatorial years, that's that's a really good sign. We have...It's definitely very encouraging numbers.

Pryor: Bryan, what's the party breakdown for the registrations?

Dean: Well, the big news on that front is that Republicans just crossed the the 1 million mark, and that's the first time they've ever been over a million voters. And it's the first time we've had a million voters in a party since the Democrats in 2010.

Pryor: And Republicans are up to about 47.3 percent.

Dean: Correct. They're not the majority party yet, but they have a plurality. The historical trends on voter registration have not changed, and that is that Republicans are gaining voters, Democrats are losing their share of the voters, and independents, actually, are increasing at the highest rate of anybody.

Pryor: Bryan what does the election board expect in terms of turnout this year?

Dean: Well we try to stay away from making predictions, but, I mean, I think if you look at all the numbers the signs are very encouraging. We're very hopeful we're going to have a good solid healthy turnout. And when I say "the numbers," it's not just voter registration numbers. It's the numbers for absentee mail voting. It's the numbers for early voting. It's the numbers for...The number of candidates. We had more candidates file this year than we've had in you know at least since 2000 and we're pretty sure going back to the 1970s. And also turnout for the primary was was very high. It was actually turnout for the primary this year was better than turnout for the general four years ago, and typically general elections have a much higher turnout than primaries. So all those indicators are good, but people still had to get out vote and make that happen.

Ashley: Before the primary election State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax met with members of the media, and talked about the security of the states voting system. How safe is Oklahoma's voting system.?

Dean: Well we think we have one of the most secure systems in the country, and I think the first and most important reason is we always have paper ballots to go back to in Oklahoma. And the security of those ballots is unquestioned. When you cast your ballot at the polling place, it drops into a ballot box. They put them in a transfer case sealed and signed by all of the poll workers--at least one from each party. Those go back to the county election board are secured in a room by the county sheriff, and they are not open or accessed unless there is an order for a recount. You know that's where it starts, and then you go into the electronic side of it, and one of things that benefits us is that Oklahoma has a unified system statewide. A lot of states, it varies by county. You may go to one county and they've got punch cards, and the next county has touch screens, and the next county has something like we do with paper ballots that are scanned. In Oklahoma everyone has the same ballots and the same machines. They're all owned and maintained by the state as opposed to the counties like they are in most states. You know I think I think Oklahomans can be very confident that their votes are going to be counted will be counted accurately.

Pryor: While safety may not be much of a concern, you are concerned about this information.

Dean: Yes, and I mean the one thing that we're seeing, and this is nationally, is just the amount of bad information that's circulated on social media. Some of this is intentional. I've been on...Both Facebook and Twitter have been conducting conference calls with various state election officials to keep us up-to-date as far as what they're doing, and I was on a call like that earlier this week. They have done hundreds to thousands of takedowns of accounts associated with Russian intelligence. Iranian intelligence, you name it. And a lot of this stuff has made the news, so it's not necessarily surprising. But these folks are not just...It's not just a question of putting things out that are bad to try to confuse voters, which is part of it saying things, you know, getting people wrong dates for voting, anything along those lines. But also, just, I think Americans take for granted peaceful transfer of power, but that only happens if people have faith that our elections are free and fair. And so what these folks are trying to do is undermine the public's faith in the system, and if they can, you know, put out bad information about elections being rigged, something to that effect, that can have a very chilling effect on people's confidence in the election system. And so everyone's coordinating and working around the clock to try and make sure our elections are going to be safe. At the same time, we need to make clear the fact that no one's talking about votes being changed here. Votes will be counted and counted accurately. And people need to have faith that that's going to happen.

Ashley: Earlier this year Governor Mary Fallin vetoed a bill that would allow us to take photos of our ballot and post it on social media or wherever we would like. So it remains illegal to photograph our ballots.

Dean: Well there is a little... So "ballot selfies" is what people often call that, and that's when you take a picture of your mark ballot. Our law is not very clear on this subject. It was it was written in the 1970s, obviously did not contemplate smartphones. And there's two sort of sections of the law that mention it, and one could be read to say you're not supposed to expose your ballot any other person. However, the section that attaches criminal penalties to disclosing your vote only addresses disclosing your vote while you're in the polling place. What you're definitely not supposed to do is go around showing other people you know your ballot, and how you voted while you're in the polling place. But there is some question over whether or not it covers like posting about selfie. Now I don't know of anyone ever being arrested or prosecuted for posting about selfie, so, partially because the law is very unclear. But also it could be a First Amendment issue. There was an effort legislatively to try to correct the language on this and to make it clear that it was OK to take about selfie. I believe the governor vetoed it. And I think the reasoning was that there was some concern there wasn't enough language in there to address the potential for coercion, which, again, one of the things that's in there about disclosure votes is they don't want, you know, your boss at work or a union leader or someone else to basically require you to show them photo proof that you voted the way they wanted you to vote. So there needs to be some sort of you know, her feeling was going to be some sort of protection that regard and I think there will be an effort to revisit that this session just to clear it up. It's a question we get every election, and we advise people not to take ballot selfies. But, again, the law's kind of unclear on it.

Pryor: Many states allow for an extended period of time of early voting and different ways to encourage more people to vote. Do you see any changes coming in Oklahoma's voting laws.

Dean: Well that would be a question for the legislature.

Pryor: Of course.

Dean: When We talk about early voting the the big barrier for us is cost. You know, we have...In a lot of these smaller counties you only have, you know, two staff members, and they're struggling as it is to just get early voting done. And for us to expand that much you'd have to look at increase staffing for the county election boards for them to be able to pull that off. So that's a question of money, and so, of course, that goes back to the legislature and what they want to do. And, obviously, it's also...Our early voting hours are in state law. So you'd have to change the law, one, and then we'd have to find a way to pay poll workers to do it. It's something we could always do if it's something legislature decides that they want to do.

Ashley: When voters go to the polls they need to have certain identification what do voters need to take with them?

Dean: Well there's there's three ways you can you can prove your identity. The polls. One is to have a photo ID issued by the state of Oklahoma, or the U.S. federal government, or a federally recognized tribe. So that would include a driver's license. It would also include, for example, a student ID if you're a student at a public university. It would include various other photo IDs issued by the state. A federally issued photo ID, so that would include like a passport, a tribal ID, obviously a military ID. In addition to that, if you do not have a photo ID issued by the government, we issue everyone a free voter I.D. card when they register to vote. It's just a small little kind of cardboard stock card that comes in the mail. You can use that to prove your identity the polls. Or if you have neither of those, you can vote a provisional ballot. You fill out an affidavit with your information on it as long as information you provide matches what's in our system, that ballot gets counted, and the vast majority of those, over 90 percent of those get counted. So it's easy to get to get that done in Oklahoma on Election Day.

Pryor: Polls are open 7:00a.m. to 7:00p.m. When is the cutoff for voting?

Well, anybody who's in line at 7:00p.m. will get to vote. So, you know, 7:00a.m. to 7:00p.m. is when the polls are open, and if if you are in line at 7:00p.m. and there are a thousand people in front of you they'll come out and they'll give you a marker, and you will get to vote. So anyone who is in line when the polls close we'll get a chance to vote.

Pryor: Bryan Dean, Public Information Officer for the State Election Board. Thank you.

Dean: Thank you.

Pryor: That's Capitol insider. You can also find us online at kgou.org and eCapitol.net. And follow us on Twitter: @kgounews. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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