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Wayne Greene: Auditing Oklahoma's election results would waste money, change little

Wayne Greene: Auditing Oklahoma's election results would waste money, change little

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Oklahoma’s election machines provide quick results and a checkable record of paper ballots.

An Arizona-style audit of Oklahoma’s 2020 election results isn’t authorized by law and wouldn’t be worth the time and money involved.

That’s not just my opinion; it’s that of state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax, who rejected a Republican legislator’s attempt to re-examine the votes in Oklahoma County and two others.

Donald Trump won the Oklahoma presidential vote by more than 735,000 votes, and since the election, fewer than 50 votes in the entire state have been thrown into doubt. It’s hard to see what value could come from a slow, expensive reexamination of the results eight months later.

But, citing debunked claims of voter fraud in other states, Rep. Sean Roberts had asked Ziriax for an independent forensic audit of the Oklahoma County results and those of two other counties chosen at random. He wanted the state to review voter registration and votes cast, the vote count and tally, the voting system and reported results.

“There were clear signs of election fraud in various other states around the country such as Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania,” Roberts said in a press release last week.

“Constituents have stated over and over again that transparency is a must in our republic and every citizen should be confident that their vote counts as one.”

I reached out to Roberts, R-Hominy, in an attempt to understand his concerns better, but we weren’t able to make a connection.

It isn’t surprising that Roberts specified that Oklahoma County’s results should be double-checked long after the fact. In addition to being the state’s most populous county, it is one of its most purple politically.

Trump won the county’s plurality but got only 49% of the vote, fewer than 4,000 more than Democrat Joe Biden.

In a return letter, Ziriax told Roberts that the sort of audit he was asking for would require new law and quite a bit of money. He added that it wouldn’t be worth it.

“As Oklahoma’s chief election official, in my judgment the time and expense of a post-election audit is not justified for an election that was conducted more than eight months ago,” Ziriax wrote.

He added that there has been no controversy about the certified results of Oklahoma’s election and that “not a single state or federal candidate exercised the right to request a recount.”

If Oklahoma law doesn’t allow for the sort of election vetting silliness currently underway in other states, it could in the future.

Sen. Nathan Dahm proposed Senate Bill 34 last year. It would require post-election audits of results in at least three counties to verify electronically tabulated results. The Dahm proposal specifies that audits would include a manual and electronic recount of all the ballots, which for a big county like Tulsa or Oklahoma would take weeks.

Dahm’s bill never got out of committee but remains alive for consideration next year. Roberts says he’s working on legislation of his own to require election audits.

Mike Ray of the Southwest Ledger did some excellent reporting on the Roberts request and found that a total of 49 instances of alleged voter irregularities in 14 counties were reported from the general election. That included 19 instances of people apparently voting twice, although that often turns out to be elderly voters showing up at their polling place and forgetting that they already turned in absentee ballots, a spokeswoman for the State Election Board told Ray.

That’s 49 cases out of more than 1.5 million votes cast.

Oklahoma’s election system isn’t foolproof, but it is excellent. It has safeguards that catch people who try to vote twice. It creates a checkable record of paper ballots and an almost instantaneous tabulation of results.

The state’s voting machines were designed and are operated by human beings, which allows for mistakes to be made, but I’d put our system up against that of any other state for its speed and accuracy. When disappointed candidates pay for recounts, they usually find out the results were straight and true.

The state’s election laws, however, need some work, including the foolish and pointless requirement that people who prefer to vote by mail have their ballots notarized, a bureaucratic frustration that serves little purpose.

Remember, the Legislature allowed voters to wire around that issue in 2020, and the result was a huge increase in mailed ballots amid a pandemic without any increase in voter irregularities. For no apparent reason other than to frustrate mail-in voters, the Legislature allowed the one-year exemption to expire.

Auditing Oklahoma’s elections wouldn’t change any results. It would be expensive and time-consuming and would needlessly introduce doubt in the ability of the existing system to do its job.

Ziriax was right to brush off Roberts’ request, and if legislative leaders are good stewards of tax resources, they’ll do the same to any proposals to mandate audits in the future.

Word of the week: detritus (pronounced as if it rhymed with phlebitis) — A friend pointed out the word, which she had picked up from a Los Angeles Times article. It refers to the organic remains of decomposing material but in a metaphorical sense can mean the remains of anything that has collapsed.

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Wayne Greene reads the Tulsa World editorial "Factions threaten state GOP"


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Editorial Pages Editor

I'm the editorial pages editor of the Tulsa World and a political columnist. A fourth-generation Oklahoman, I previously served as the World’s city editor for 13 years and as a reporter at the state Capitol of four years. Phone: 918-581-8308

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