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Oklahoma State Election Board public information officer Bryan Dean shows off a voting machine for the handicapped Friday, Feb. 26, at the Oklahoma State Capitol. (Paul Fairchild)
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(Update: On March 21, the Oklahoma State Election Board certified the Libertarian Party to place candidates on the November ballot. As first reported below, the party will need to achieve 10 percent of the presidential vote to remain certified for future elections.)

With signatures now filed to register an official political party in Oklahoma, the chairman of the national Libertarian Party hopes ongoing presidential campaign shenanigans will directly help libertarians gain support come November.

“The clown show that they’re running on the other side is likely to drive a lot more Libertarian turnout in November,” said Nicholas Sarwark, national Libertarian Party chairman.

Sarwark and other libertarians believe Oklahomans — and Americans in general — need options beyond the traditional two parties in November’s election.

With a major development last week, that’s closer to reality in the Sooner State.

On Feb. 22, Tina Kelly, vice chairwoman of the Oklahoma Libertarian committee, turned in over 42,000 signatures to the Oklahoma State Election Board. Only 24,745 — 3 percent of voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election — were needed for official registration.

“It’s awesome,” Sarwark said. “It’s been 16 years since Oklahomans have had any kind of political choice.”

The election board will count the signatures, according to public information officer Bryan Dean. If there are enough, the signatures will be sent to the various counties where they’ll be checked to make sure those who signed are registered voters.

The election board has until March 23 to complete the process, Dean said. If there are enough valid signatures, Libertarians will be recognized as an official political organization, and Libertarian candidates will be able to appear on the ballot as such in November. The last time a Libertarian appeared on an Oklahoma ballot was 2000.

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“It’s clear from the vast number of signature we got above and beyond the requirement that Oklahomans want choice,” Sarwark said. “They’re tired of not having choice.”

Because Oklahoma requires at least six months of membership in a party before running for office under its banner, Sarwark said Libertarian candidates will have only a two-week window to register in the state.

“Right now, we’re just lining up and recruiting people to register during that period if they plan to run for office,” he added. “After our press conference, I counted at least between four and six people who were already planning to run for office, from the state legislature on up. We may have a contested race for (U.S.) senator.”

The Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate will be chosen during their annual convention at the end of May, but to remain an official political organization in Oklahoma, the party must garner 10 percent of the votes in the November election, Dean said.

Sarwark sees that as an achievable goal.

“For anybody who’s tired of the choices that the old parties have been giving them and tired of being told that’s all you can have, please join us,” he said.

Libertarians will be holding their own nationally televised debate within the next month or two. It’s a first for the party. Other debates will be streamed live at lp.org/debate. Traditionally, Libertarians have received far less media coverage than Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s time that we restored America back to what it was founded on, which is the idea that you can pursue happiness any way you want as long as you don’t hurt anybody else or take their stuff,” Sarwark said. “We’re the only political party that actually stands for that.”

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