By Patrick B. McGuigan | CapitolBeatOK
OKLAHOMA CITY — Who owns the rights to the Americans Elect party line on the Oklahoma ballot?
Not David Boren.
The University of Oklahoma president’s brief run at creating a third party for the 2012 U.S. presidential contest was always controversial. But even Boren, a former governor and U.S. senator, found the latest evolution of the Americans Elect party too weird. Now that Libertarian Party activists have taken control of the Americans Elect ballot line in Oklahoma, Boren is bailing.
State officials say it’s still unclear who owns the rights to the space an Americans Elect candidate might have occupied on the November ballot, even as they face a deadline to prepare the official ballot form.
State members of the party, which earned a ballot line in March, submitted electors Wednesday, in support of the Libertarian Party’s nominee. On Tuesday the national Americans Elect organization notified state election officials that the party “has terminated or otherwise dissolved” its party status in Oklahoma, “effective immediately.” The group directed all correspondence to a Boston lawyer.
Boren was the key player in the national group’s efforts in Oklahoma. But Friday morning, he told CapitolBeatOK, “Since Americans Elect did not field a ticket in the presidential election, I will not be involved in any of their state and local efforts.” Through a spokesman, he has declined further comment.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax declined to comment on the situation other than to tell CapitolBeatOK, “This is a very unusual situation, so we are seeking legal advice from our counsel at the Attorney General’s Office about how to proceed.”
Assistant Attorney General Neal Leader said the office is acting as counsel, not issuing a formal attorney general’s opinion. He asked both the national party and the state party leaders to send information to him. Leader said he anticipates a decision by the end of next week.
The legal question is whether the state will honor the wishes of the national party — “we’re outta here” — or the state party — “we’re in it, to win it.”
Richard Winger, of Ballot Access News, one of the nation’s leading analysts of ballot access issues, said he believes by long-standing tradition state parties determine state party rules, including delegate selection and selection of electors.
Winger said he believes the state Americans Elect party’s electors will be on the November ballot.
Rex Lawhorn, state chairman of Americans Elect, submitted seven electors for the party’s nominee on Aug. 7. The electors were pledged to support former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson for president, and California Judge James Gray for vice president. Johnson and Gray are the nominees of the Libertarian Party, which does not have ballot status in Oklahoma. The electors were chosen at a July 21 convention.
In an Aug. 6 letter, Kahlil Byrd of the national party told the Oklahoma state election board that the national party voted in July to terminate its status “as a qualified political party in all states in which it has so qualified.” Byrd’s letter conveyed “unanimous written consent” of the national group’s directors to withdraw the party’s “ballot line in all states in which Americans Elect has obtained a ballot access line.” The national party took that action July 23-24.
Ziriax announced March 10 that Americans Elect had qualified for a presidential ballot line.
Boren helped the group gather some 90,000 signatures, submitted to the state election board in late February.
At that time, Boren — stressing he was acting in a personal role and not in his current capacity as university president — thanked Americans Elect “for assuring that Oklahomans and Americans will have a third alternative in the Presidential Election this November if it is needed.”
The group intended, Boren said then, to hold a nationwide online “convention” to pick a Democrat and a Republican “to run as a team for President and Vice President. It would be the first bipartisan national ticket in modern history.”
Ziriax said Americans Elect garnered 68,424 valid signatures in the petition process. The organization had filed a “Notice of Intent to Forum a Recognized Political Party” on Oct. 3, 2011.
In contrast, the state Libertarian Party fell short of ballot status. Activists filed their notice of intent on May 3, 2011, then turned in petitions on March 1. However, only 41,070 valid signatures were turned in.
To secure a ballot line, petitioners had to gather 51,739, or a number equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the 2010 general election for governor.
Oklahoma election officials plan to prepare ballot materials in early September, to meet a Sept. 21 deadline allowing timely distribution of absentee ballot materials to military personnel.