Students will travel to the polls tomorrow to finish this election season and decide which candidate will become the next president. However, these elections have more on the line than just the presidency.
On the Oklahoma ballot for 2016, there will be seven questions for residents to vote on. According to senior, political science major Cody Milner, these state ballot questions — also called state ballot measures — are short, legal questions placed on the ballot by either initiative or referendum.
“Usually, the question on the ballot explains a little bit about what it wants to do, but is also linked back to a larger document or description,” Milner said. “In the state of Oklahoma, all State Questions are constitutional amendments, so if these questions are approved they will permanently change the Oklahoma state constitution.”
The seven questions cover topics including methods of execution, farming and ranching, taxes, drugs, religion and alcohol.
“These questions are important to individuals because they are policies that will directly impact their lives and will be permanently etched in state laws now,” Milner said. “Politicians may come and go, and may or may not do whatever they claim they’ll do, but State Questions are a bit more absolute.”
State Question 776
This ballot measure, known as the Oklahoma Death Penalty Amendment, will give the Oklahoma State legislature the power to allow the state of Oklahoma to use any method of execution not already prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. It also states the use of the death penalty following due process of law will not be considered cruel and unusual punishment. In addition, a prisoner’s death sentence may not be reduced if the method of execution is ruled unconstitutional. This measure was established in response to a failed execution in 2014, when a lethal injection did not take effect as quickly as planned.
State Question 777
The Oklahoma Right to Farm Amendment guarantees farmers and ranchers the right to make use of agricultural technology, livestock procedures and ranching practices. According to Milner, bureaucratic limitations on farmers and ranchers will not be allowed unless there is a compelling interest for the state as a whole. This measure was established in response to the Environmental Protection Agency using unprecedented and undefined authority to limit farmers and ranchers from conducting their businesses in a variety of ways.
State Question 779
This ballot measure, known as the Oklahoma One Percent Sales Tax, will permanently raise the Oklahoma sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent. According to Ballotpedia, the money raised through the 1 percent increase will go toward funding public education, with 69.5 percent going to common school districts, 19.25 percent to institutions under the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, 3.25 percent to the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education and eight percent to the State Department of Education. This measure also requires an increase in teacher salaries of at least $5,000.
State Question 780
The Oklahoma Reclassification of Some Drug and Property Crimes as Misdemeanors Initiative would “change the reclassification of certain drug possession and property crimes from felony to misdemeanor.” According to Milner, this means the removal of penalties for drug use, taking away the current felony charges, sending and replacing those with a simple misdemeanor charge, likely only resulting in a fine. The measure would also increase the threshold dollar amount used for determining whether certain property crimes — including false declaration of a pawn ticket, embezzlement, larceny, grand larceny, theft, receiving or concealing stolen property, taking domesticated fish or game, fraud, forgery, counterfeiting and issuing bogus checks — are considered a felony or misdemeanor from $500 to $l,000.
State Question 781
This ballot measure, known as the Rehabilitative Programs Fund Initiative, was designed to correspond with State Question 780. Therefore, if 780 does not pass, 781 will have no effect. State Question 781 would allow for the money saved through State Question 780 to be used to fund rehabilitative programs for criminals. According to Ballotpedia, under State Question 781, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services would determine each year how much money was saved by the state prison system. The amount calculated would then be divided proportionally to the population of each of the 77 counties and could be used to fund privately run rehabilitative organizations providing drug and mental health treatment, job training and education programs.
State Question 790
This ballot measure, known as the Oklahoma Public Money for Religious Purposes, would repeal the Blaine Amendment of the Oklahoma Constitution. According to Ballotpedia, this section of the constitution prohibits the government from using public money or property for the direct or indirect benefit of any religion or religious institution. The amendment has previously been used to require the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of the State Capitol. If the Question passes the Oklahoma government would still be required to follow the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the government from endorsing a religion or becoming overly involved with a religion.
State Question 792
The Oklahoma Regulations Governing the Sale of Wine and Beer Amendment, would enact Article 28A and repeal Article 28 of the Oklahoma Constitution. According to Milner, the measure repeals a long series of state laws and restrictions of manufacturing, transportation and selling of alcoholic beverages and replaces them with new, lesser regulations. This will allow grocery and convenience stores to sell regular-strength alcohol, all wine and liquor, and refrigerated beer and alcohol accessories at all times.
Voting for the Questions occurs tomorrow, but early voting opened in October. The presidential election and state official elections will be included along with the Questions on the ballot.
“The actual nuts and bolts of life, the daily issues that are going to have a regular impact on our lives, those are controlled almost exclusively by the local and state governments,” Milner said. “It’s so important to know who you’re voting into those lower offices and to keep those lower officials accountable for what they’re doing. And in much the same way that’s why the State Questions are so important. You have the ability to change a state’s constitution and to change how your life operates daily. That’s a big challenge, and one that we shouldn’t take lightly.”