The Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 8, 2008
By RON JENKINS
OKLAHOMA CITY — Ten Oklahoma voters, including two lawmakers, filed a legal protest in the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Friday challenging the so-called Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative.
There was no immediate comment Friday afternoon from petition sponsors at their Tulsa headquarters.
Chuck Thornton, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma, said the signature-gathering process for the petition is rife with errors.
State Reps. Mike Shelton of Oklahoma City and Jabar Shumate of Tulsa are among those challenging the validity of the petition in the state high court.
They argue the petition is an attempt to trick voters into ending equal opportunity programs, such as affirmative action.
"When equal opportunity and the civil rights of our residents are at stake, it is critically important that the electoral process is fair, transparent and honest," Thornton said.
He expressed confidence the petition would be thrown out of court because of faulty signature-gathering.
The legal challenge comes after the petition’s signatures were found to be sufficient in number by the secretary of state and sent to the Supreme Court for certification.
Last month, Secretary of State Susan Savage sent a letter to the court saying the petition contained a large number of duplicate names and addresses.
Savage also said signature counting was complicated "due to the scope and number of irregularities noted among the signature pages," including multiple signatures by petition circulators.
Opponents of the petition say it is similar to petitions sponsored in other states by California businessman Ward Connerly, head of the American Civil Rights Institute.
They say a similar ballot initiative in California reduced the participation of women and minorities in higher education, contracting and employment.
"It is well known that Connerly and his front groups have repeatedly misappropriated the language of the civil rights movement to trick voters into ending equal opportunity programs in states across the country. But we the voters of Oklahoma must not be fooled," Shelton said.
"Although we are strongly opposed to the content of this ballot measure, today’s challenge is about protecting the integrity of the electoral process in the state of Oklahoma," he said.
Besides Shelton and Shumate, others challenging the petition are Fannie Bates, Randall T. Coyne, Bob Darcy, Bernadette Huber, Rey Madrid, Bernice Mitchell, Earl D. Mitchell, Jr., and Juanita Vasquez Sykes.