OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A group that is pushing for the end of sentence enhancements for nonviolent offenses is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to step in to make sure the state question ends up on a ballot this year.
In December, Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform announced the launch of the ‘Yes on 805’ campaign and a 90-day signature collection period for State Question 805.
Organizers say State Question 805 is a criminal justice reform measure that would end the use of sentence enhancements for nonviolent offenses, and it would allow inmates who have already received an extreme sentence to petition the court for relief.
Sentence enhancements often add additional prison time for repeat offenders.
“Oklahoma has an incarceration crisis,” said Sarah Edwards, president of Yes on 805. “This crisis separates families, damages communities and hurts our state’s chances of success. For several years, legislators have tried to pass legislation that would rein in sentence enhancements and reduce extreme sentences. These efforts have failed despite widespread support from state leaders and Oklahoma voters. This campaign is a continuation of recent criminal justice reform efforts, acknowledging that much more still needs to be done to address this crisis.”
Organizers say that compared to the national average, the sentences for people in Oklahoma are 79% longer for drug crimes and 70% longer for property crimes.
Gov. Kevin Stitt said he opposes the proposed state question.
“Trying to put this into our state’s constitution, it peels back enhancements for DUIs, human trafficking, domestic violence, some of the things I don’t think we need to put into our constitution,” Stitt said.
For several months, the campaign worked to collect 177,958 signatures in order to put the measure on the 2020 ballot.
However, their efforts were cut short when they were forced to stop collecting signatures due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Although they didn’t have the full 90-days to collect signatures, organizers say they still collected more than 260,000 signatures, well over the 177,958 that were needed to qualify for the ballot.
Now, the campaign is facing another issue.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, organizers say they have been unable to turn in the signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Organizers say they have asked to make an in-person appointment or turn in the signatures via mail, but the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office has refused.
At this point, they say they must be able to turn in the signatures in order to make the deadline for a 2020 ballot.
“It’s imperative we place State Question 805 on a 2020 ballot. People who are serving excessive sentences can’t wait another year. Their families can’t wait. And we can’t wait — not when we have the support from Oklahomans needed to safely, responsibly and effectively address our state’s incarceration crisis. We hope this legal move will prompt quick action from the Secretary of State to ensure the thousands of Oklahomans who signed our petition to place SQ 805 on the ballot have their voices heard,” said Edwards.
On Thursday, the campaign filed a writ of mandamus asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to require the Secretary of State’s office to accept the signatures and place the question on a 2020 ballot.