The Oklahoma State Election Board is partnering with banks and credit unions across the state to provide voters with access to free absentee ballot notarizations and identification card photocopies.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax announced the partnership during a press conference this morning inside the Jim Thorpe Building in Oklahoma City.
In the works since January, the initiative will allow voters to visit any participating bank or credit union for free services. Institutions will choose whether they will provide notarization, copies or both. Services may take place in the lobby or the drive-thru. A separate list of non-financial institutions, such as libraries and individual notaries, that are providing similar services will soon be added here. Additional organizations that wish to offer these services should contact their county election board, Ziriax said.
“Banks and credit unions are in almost every community across our state. They’re our neighbors, they are our community partners, and they realize the importance of democracy,” Ziriax said. “We’re excited to work with these financial institutions to ensure that every voter, both customers and non-customers alike, have free and convenient absentee voter services available to them.”
‘It’s safe to say that number will increase’
Although Ziriax said discussions between the State Election Board and financial institutions began before the COVID-19 pandemic limited many voters’ comfort with in-person voting, the initiative is expected to be particularly helpful as more Oklahomans opt to vote absentee.
“This was not going to be quite the issue that I thought it was until the COVID issue arose,” said Sen. Chuck Hall (R-Perry), who spoke in his capacity as CEO of Exchange Bank & Trust Company.
Hall said many customers of his are still practicing social distancing.
“They remain concerned potentially about their health, so the idea of being able to provide notary services — to be able to provide copy services through the drive-thru — I think is a special idea,” he said.
In past elections, absentee ballots had to be notarized by a notary public. This spring, members of the League of Women Voters won a complicated challenge of the state’s ballot notary requirement. But following the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision, Republicans in the state Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill to make the ballot notarization requirement comply with state law. Democrats called SB 210 “an unnecessary barrier,” while Republicans said voter fraud could occur without it.
Hall voted for the measure, which included a caveat for the 2020 election cycle. This year, voters can verify their ballots by submitting a photocopy of an approved form of identification, such as a voter ID card or any valid state, tribal, or federal ID.
Absentee ballots can be requested until 5 p.m., Tuesday, June 23. A standard absentee ballot can be requested by any voter for any reason.
Involvement by institutions that are members of the participating groups — the Oklahoma Bankers Association, the Oklahoma Credit Union Association and the Community Bankers Association of Oklahoma — is voluntary and expected to increase as more financial institutins re-open. Organization leaders have reported a positive response so far, according to Nate Webb, executive director of the Oklahoma Credit Union Association.
“I think it’s safe to say that number will increase as we go along,” Webb said. “I think many of our institutions — or some, certainly — are still addressing some operational issues resulting from the pandemic, and I think that recovery varies between institution and institution.”
To Adrian Beverage, executive vice president for government relations with the Oklahoma Bankers Association, the partnership between the State Election Board and his 200-plus community banks seemed natural.
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“When we were first approached about what could we do to make absentee voting easier for Oklahomans, it was a no-brainer for us to jump in,” Beverage said. “This is what our folks do on a daily basis: help their customers.”
Webb offered similar motivations for encouraging credit unions to offer the program.
“One of our key tenets is community service,” Webb said. “There’s probably no greater privilege and right that we have as Oklahomans and Americans than to vote, and to help in that process we felt was just the right thing to do.”
Ziriax said Oklahomans should feel comfortable voting absentee, even if they hadn’t before.
“Absentee voting in Oklahoma is a secure method of casting your ballot because of Oklahoma’s election security and election integrity measures,” he said.
Craig Buford, the president of the Community Bankers Association of Oklahoma echoed Ziriax, thanking the government for coming up with “a very creative and efficient way to keep those ballots safe and accurate.”
Oklahoma’s primary election will take place June 30, and ballots will also feature municipal, county and school board elections postponed from April owing to the pandemic. All absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.