Losing Our Initiative

State's Wrongs

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Three political activists face criminal charges for trying to put a taxpayer's bill of rights on a state ballot in 2005. Oklahoma, which prohibits out-of-state residents from collecting signatures to put an initiative on the ballot, has indicted Paul Jacob, Susan Johnson, and Rick Carpenter for conspiracy to defraud the state by helping organize outsiders to collect signatures.

The taxpayer's bill of rights was unpopular with a wide range of political forces in Oklahoma, from public employees' unions to big business. Jacob thinks the campaign's controversial nature caused an enforcement double standard. In a previous case involving a petition against cockfighting, an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision allowed signatures collected by people with no other proof of residency beyond affirming that they were residents and listing an Oklahoma address.

Oklahoma's law on signature collection is being challenged by the group Yes on Term Limits, which lost its first round and has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. For Jacob, who was imprisoned in the 1980s for refusing to register for the draft, Oklahoma's ban on out-of-state petitioners is "a malevolent law designed to do against petition rights and the initiative process what folks in Mississippi in the 1950s and '60s wanted to do against freedom riders coming into the state. It's a law designed to stop us from helping each other control our government."

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