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SQ 805 results: Oklahoma votes against changing sentence enhancements

Kayla Branch, Gannett/The Oklahoman
Election 2020

Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly rejected State Question 805 Tuesday, dealing a blow to the latest large-scale criminal justice reform effort in the state.

Opposition stayed strong throughout the night with roughly 60% of voters rejecting the measure, according to unofficial results from the Oklahoma State Election Board.

“I think the truth prevailed,” said former Gov. Frank Keating, a spokesperson for Oklahomans United Against 805. “Now the Legislature… has an obligation to go back and take a hard look at what needs to be done.”

State Question 805 would have prohibited judges and prosecutors from using sentence enhancements to lengthen the time that repeat, nonviolent offenders spend in prison beyond the maximum times listed in state law.

Supporters of State Question 805 said this change would have helped address the state’s high incarceration rate, saved taxpayer dollars and kept families together. But opponents repeatedly pointed to the way the state question classified nonviolent crimes, hammering the fact that domestic violence, animal cruelty and some home burglary charges were technically going to be classified as nonviolent. Many were also unhappy the measure would have been a constitutional change, meaning it could not be tweaked unless voters approved another state question in the future.

Kris Steele, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and a spokesperson for the Yes on 805 campaign, said the state will need to change several policies and procedures in the future to address its high rates of incarceration.

“There is a lot of work yet to do to bring Oklahoma’s criminal justice system in line with best practices and national averages,” Steele said.

This loss comes after the Yes on 805 campaign spent more than a year and over $8 million to drum up support. Oklahomans supported broad criminal justice reforms in 2016, but many said the way this state question was worded created concerns for victims of crime.