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Questions And Answers On State Question 698

What does SQ 698 do?

SQ 698 would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to require that ballot initiatives relating to animal welfare obtain nearly twice the number of signatures needed for an initiative on any other subject. In order to qualify an initiative for the ballot, a citizen group must obtain a total number of signatures equal to 8% of the number of people who voted in the last general election. SQ 698 would increase the total percentage of signatures needed to 15% of the number of people who voted in the last general election in order to qualify any animal welfare initiative.

How did this measure get on the ballot?
The state Legislature referred to it the ballot at the behest of the cockfighting lobby. The legislators pushing this measure needed votes of a simple majority of state representatives and state senators to place SQ 698 on the ballot. The Senate passed the measure by a single vote, over the objection of legislators concerned about the voting rights of Oklahomans.

When will it appear on the ballot?
November 2002.

Isn’t the anti-cockfighting initiative, SQ 687, slated to appear on the November 2002 ballot also?
Both measures are expected to appear on the same ballot, and that is upsetting to the cockfighters. After animal welfare advocates secured the signatures needed to qualify the anti-cockfighting issue for the ballot, cockfighters challenged the validity of the signatures in the courts. They spent hundreds of thousands in legal fees in a desperate effort to invalidate the petition and prevent the people of Oklahoma from deciding whether cockfighting should remain legal. They mistakenly believed that the court would throw out the anti-cockfighting petition and force the animal welfare groups to gather signatures for a new measure. They wanted to see voters approve SQ 698 so that the new signature-gathering standard called for in SQ 698 – essentially doubling the number of signatures needed – would apply.

So what happened to their court challenge?
By a unanimous 8 – 0 ruling in November 2001, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the cockfighters’ arguments and determined that the anti-cockfighting initiative meets all of the qualifications for placement on the ballot. In short, the courts derailed the cockfighters’ two-step plan – first, getting the courts to invalidate the anti-cockfighting initiative, and, second, campaigning to pass a constitutional amendment to make it a practical impossibility to gather the signatures needed to place any new anti-cockfighting initiative on the ballot.

Given that SQ 687 – the anti-cockfighting initiative – will appear on the ballot, is SQ 698 still relevant?
It certainly is. If voters approve SQ 698 and reject SQ 687, then any new attempt to qualify an anti-cockfighting initiative would face the new and impossibly high signature gathering standard. What’s more, SQ 698 would nearly double the number of signatures needed for any animal welfare initiative, whether that involves strengthening the state’s anti-cruelty statute, amending our state’s anti-dogfighting statute, or protecting communities from the effects of hog factory farms.

How many signatures would be needed under the new standard called for in SQ 698?
Under the terms of the Oklahoma Constitution, it is necessary to gather about 100,000 signatures – about 8% of the total number of people who voted in the November 2000 election - within a 90-day period in order to qualify a measure for the ballot. Under existing constitutional requirement, that’s a very tough standard to meet, and that’s the major reason that Oklahoma has so few citizen initiatives. If voters approve SQ 698, it would require citizens to gather about 200,000 signatures in 90 days – an almost impossible task – for any animal welfare initiative.

Have there been many animal welfare initiatives in Oklahoma’s history?
No. In fact, the anti-cockfighting initiative is the first ever animal welfare initiative ever advanced in Oklahoma, and the initiative process has been in place since statehood

Why should citizens oppose SQ 698?
SQ 698 not only implies that Oklahomans are too ignorant to discern what constitutes cruelty to animals, but also sets a precedent for the Legislature to deny citizens an opportunity to decide other issues for themselves. It is an attack on the voting rights of Oklahomans.

Who is behind SQ 698?
State Senator Frank Shurden – a longtime cockfighting enthusiast - was the author of the legislation that eventually became SQ 698. His original bill, which the Senate passed, but the House blocked, would have guaranteed citizens of Oklahoma a constitutional right “to engage in occupations and sports that involved animals.” In effect, his original measure was so radical that it would have barred the adoption of any new regulations or statutes to protect animals, including cockfighting. When that measure failed, Shurden and his allies opted for the attack on the initiative process, as a stealthy way to block any animal welfare reforms through direct voting by the people.

Isn’t SQ 698 needed to protect hunting, trapping, circuses, and rodeos?
There have never been serious attempts in the state Legislature to restrict hunting, trapping, or the use of animals in rodeos. Cockfighting defenders recognized that a measure about the unpopular practice of cockfighting would be rejected in the Legislature or at the ballot box by the people. So they lumped other more popular and common animal uses, such as hunting, fishing, and rodeo, into the measure in an attempt to attract a broader base of support., even though these practices are not threatened.

How would SQ 698 affect Oklahoma’s image?
No other state with the initiative process has one set of signature gathering requirements for animal welfare issues and a separate, and lower, standard for all other issues. It’s just unfair. Oklahoma is one of just three states where gruesome and barbaric practice of cockfighting is legal, and it is an embarrassment to our state. Placing a measure on the ballot at the urging of cockfighting only contributes to a poor statewide image. The underlying message of SQ 698 is that legislators believe that the people of the state are too ignorant and gullible to decide issues for themselves.

Have other states had ballot questions to restrict voting rights?
Voters in other states have rejected amendments to take away their voting rights, and Oklahomans should as well. Proposition 201 sought to amend the Arizona Constitution to create a two-thirds majority to pass any initiative to protect wildlife. Voters rejected this referendum with a 63% “no” vote in November 2000. In Alaska, there was a measure on the ballot to amend the Constitution to forbid any citizen initiatives to restrict hunting or trapping. Voters rejected that measure with a 64% “no” vote – not because they opposed hunting, but because they viewed the measure as an obvious attempt to limit their voting rights and place all policy-making power in the state Legislature. The initiative process is a safety valve that citizens can use when the Legislature fails to take action on an issue of importance to the people, and the people support the existence of a workable initiative process – even if they use it sparingly.

Who opposes SQ 698?
A broad spectrum of organizations oppose this measure, from the Oklahoma Humane Federation to Oklahoma League of Women Voters to the Oklahoma Christian Coalition.

What do the Daily Oklahoma and The Tulsa World say about SQ 698?
The Daily Oklahoma called SQ 698 “shameful” and “dishonest” and urged a “no” vote on SQ 698. The Tulsa World said, “we hope Oklahoma voters will have more sense than their elected representatives and see this unfair and extreme measure for what it is: an attempt to interfere with voting rights and undermine the very democratic principles that this country was founded on.”

How can I help?
Vote “no” on SQ 698 in November 2002. Urge others to do the same. Write a letter to the editor to your local newspaper. You may also wish to volunteer with the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting, which is urging a “yes” vote on SQ 687 and a “no” vote on SQ 698.

Published by the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting