Election essentials - What’s on your ballot?

As Jay Griffith says, being adequately informed is a democratic duty just as the vote is a democratic right, so take a quick scroll through this ballot breakdown and face the upcoming elections as an informed electorate.

 

There are two statewide measures on the Oklahoma ballot this November – SQ 805 and SQ 814. 

 

State Question 805  

What is it? 

Pertaining to civil and criminal trials, State Question 805 is a criminal history in sentencing and sentence modification initiative and an initiated constitutional amendment that was filed by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. 

If you vote yes,  

  • A person’s prior non-violent felony convictions cannot be used to award sentence enhancements (impose a sentence greater than the maximum sentence for that crime) for later non-violent felony convictions. 

For instance, under sentence enhancement decades can be added to the original sentence a person is given if they have a prior felony conviction even for low-level nonviolent felony convictions. 

  • Sentence modifications (reductions) will be provided for eligible prisoners who are currently serving or will commence serving enhanced sentences. 

What it means? 

  • Over the next ten years, the prison population will be reduced by 8.5 percent, which would be crucial to combat Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis with second highest incarceration rate in the nation. 

  • Nearly $186 million in taxpayer’s money can be saved over the next decade, as estimated by a fiscal analysis by Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, which can be invested in rehabilitative resources for nonviolent criminals and crime victims. 

  • Prevent senseless sentencing that is disproportionate to the crime committed, for instance, a woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing basic necessities and children's toys at Walmart.

What it does not mean? 

  • The ballot measure does not apply to violent felonies including assault, battery, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, human trafficking, burglary, robbery, child abuse, rape, rioting, arson, terrorism, and more. 

  • It does not touch and will not apply to domestic abuse which has been reclassified as a violent crime by the legislature. 

  • It would not prevent legislatures from classifying currently nonviolent crimes as violent crimes. 

  • It would not change the maximum or minimum sentences awarded for any felony, nor would it prevent the modification of the same. It would simply disallow a sentence longer than the maximum sentence on the basis of prior nonviolent conviction. 

  • It would not make society more unsafe. Research has proven that longer sentences and sentence enhancements do little to increase public safety. 

If you vote no, 

  • The current policies on sentence enhancements based on prior felony convictions will continue to be followed. 

What it means? 

  • The incarceration crisis would continue and in fact elevate in the coming years. 

  • Increased spending on overcrowded prisons and incarceration facilities 

  • Decades-long senseless sentencing that is disproportionate to the crime committed will continue to be awarded. 

 

Opposition arguments -  

  • Might create a culture of crime by reducing the sentencing of career criminals 

  • Might inadvertently aid the escalation of a nonviolent crime pattern into a assaults or homicide 

 

State Question 814 

What is it? 

Pertaining to tobacco and healthcare, State Question 814 is a decrease in tobacco settlement endowment trust fund payment and fund Medicaid healthcare amendment and a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that was filed by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. 

If you vote yes, 

  • The percentage of money received from tobacco settlements that is allocated to TSET (Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust) will decrease from 75% to 25%. 

  • The rest 75% of the funds will be appropriated by the state legislature to support the state’s Medicaid program. 

What is TSET? 

The TSET fund receives a certain portion of funds collected by the state from tobacco companies under the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) and directs the money to be used for tobacco use prevention, smoking cessation programs, education, health care, and so on. It is responsible for the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline and is involved in accelerating cancer treatments and prevention efforts with the University of Oklahoma Stephenson Cancer Center 

What it means? 

  •  Oklahoma is one of the worst in terms of smoking, obesity, and diabetes which TSET strives to improve through its endeavors.  Decreasing funds allocated to TSET will impair the setting up of new programs and expansion of existing initiatives by TSET geared towards combating these killers, while tobacco companies like Big Tobacco continue to spend millions to promote tobacco use. 

  • Tobacco settlement funds that will receive the funds cut from TSET would cover a portion of the state’s estimate ($168 million) of Medicaid expansion. The rest will be extracted from other sources. 

  •  Senate Bill 1529 was approved by the state legislature to take effect if State Question 814 is approved by voters. The bill ensures the funds directed from Tobacco Settlement Fund to the Attorney General's Evidence Fund remain the same ($4.6 million) after SQ814 takes effect as they are under current law. 

What it does not mean? 

  • SQ 814 wouldn’t touch TSET’s billion-dollar endowment. It would only apply to future payments. 

If you vote no, 

  • TSET (Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust) will continue to receive 75% of the funds collected by the state from tobacco settlements as it currently does. 

What it means? 

  • The TSET will continue to function as effectively as it is right now, without any funding cuts. 

  • Funds from other will directed towards Medicaid expansion. 

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This election, don’t be that one ignorant voter in a democracy who impairs the security of all, as John F. Kennedy put it.