Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Democrats draw top spot on ballots

By John Greiner
The Oklahoman

Democrats got their first 2006 general election victory against Republicans on Tuesday by winning a drawing that puts their candidates' names first on the general election ballot.

Drawings for the top location on the ballot have been held by the state Election Board since 1996, when a federal court ruled the old system that put Democrats first on the ballot was unconstitutional.

More than 30 Republican candidates who ran in Oklahoma's 1994 elections sued to get rid of that law.

State Democratic Party Chairman Lisa Pryor represented her party, and former Republican state House leader Kent Frates represented the GOP at Tuesday's drawing.

It lasted a few minutes.

Two envelopes -- one listing the Democratic Party and the other the Republican Party -- were enclosed in a larger envelope.

Michael Clingman, state Election Board secretary, asked Pryor and Frates who wanted to draw.

"Ladies first," said Frates, an Oklahoma City attorney who served eight years in the state House of Representatives in the 1970s.

Pryor opened the larger envelope, withdrew one of the smaller ones and handed it to Frates.

He then opened it.

It contained the Democratic Party's name.

Does it really matter?
Clingman said it's difficult to make an argument that ballot position makes a difference when there are few candidates in a race.

It might make a difference if there were many candidates running for the same office in the general election, he said.

The drawing applies only to political parties.

There are voters who are registered as independents, but independent isn't a political party in Oklahoma.

Former state Rep. Bill Graves, R-Oklahoma City, was one of the main plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to changing the system in 1996.

"We said it violated the equal protection laws of the U.S. Constitution," Graves said Tuesday.

Graves still prefers that candidates' names be rotated on the election ballots.

The federal lawsuit struck down a law first written by the Territorial Legislature in 1905, two years before statehood.

That laws required the Republican Party to be placed first on the ballot. It was changed in 1910 to require that the Democratic Party be listed first.

The law stayed as it was until 1992 when one word was added in anticipation of the state using voting machines statewide, election officials said.

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