By SHANE SMITH
For The Mustang News
It’s been a long journey for Trey Bishop and his associates.
A member of Canadian County’s Libertarian party, Bishop has spent the last few months seeking signatures for a petition regarding Sunday alcohol sales. The aim of the petition was for bars and restaurants in Canadian County to be allowed to sell alcohol before 2 p.m. on Sundays.
If the effort had gotten 6,920 signatures, then the issue could have gone on the ballot in the future. Unfortunately for Bishop, the petition didn’t reach its goal by the cutoff date of Dec. 23.
Sherry Wagner, secretary for the county’s Libertarians, had the idea in early 2020. She saw how other counties were passing the same legislation. Wagner hoped that, with some teamwork, real change could be put into place with Can-adian County’s legislation. The role of writing the petition then fell to Bishop. He had designed petitions before, including with marijuana groups.
The petition initially had to do with both liquor stores and public establishments serving alcohol. Due to a lack of support, the section regarding Sunday liquor store sales was withdrawn after only one week.
Shortly after, the petition for bars and restaurants was also withdrawn because of difficulty in obtaining signatures due to COVID-19.
Bishop said collecting signatures over the summer would have been nearly impossible thanks to social distancing guidelines and the closure of restaurants. He started working on the petition again in September, but the pandemic remained a challenge.
In addition, Bishop said he expected greater enthusiasm from eateries and watering holes. While some were supportive, including 40 West Bar and Grill and Grady’s Pub, others didn’t seem interested. Nevertheless, he hung around businesses and asked customers for signatures whenever he could.
On Early Voting Day, Bishop stood outside and talked to early voters in front of the Canadian County Election Board. He collected hundreds of signatures, but faced another challenge. The law prevents people from electioneering within 300 feet of a ballot box during an election, and states that people other than voters and election officials cannot be within 50 feet of a ballot box. Electioneering is defined as campaigning to influence the outcome of an election. Bishop didn’t believe he was doing this, as his petition wasn’t for anything on the ballot.
“I argued that petitioning is not electioneering,” he recalled.
Nevertheless, he said that the Canadian County Election Board secretary took issue with what he was doing and asked him to move back at least 300 feet. He argued that since he wasn’t trying to influence voting, and since his petition wasn’t for anything on the ballot, he should be allowed to petition for signatures.
There was also the question of written material. The law states that printed political material cannot be within 300 feet of the entrance, but Bishop stated that church polling places already have a slew of written material within the buildings, from books and files to paintings and signs. He said that in theory, material like these could influence the decisions of religious voters.
Election Secretary Wanda Armold said she called the state Election Board and was advised that Bishop’s petition constituted electioneering. Then the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office was called.
Bishop and his 12-year-old daughter were asked by a deputy to move back. The pair then walked to a burger joint. Bishop said that when they came back, he was asked to leave again after standing within 300 feet of the entrance.
“There came a point where I wasn’t paying attention to how far I was walking,” he said.
Bishop was then detained by the deputy for around half an hour. On Election Day, he went to a Yukon church and collected another several hundred signatures. But in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Regarding the incident at the county’s Election Board, Armold said that Bishop was friendly.
“It went smoothly really, but it was kind of an inconvenience,” she said.
And though they disagreed, Bishop indicated that he doesn’t bear any animosity towards anyone. But he does take issue with some elements of the system.
“Oklahoma could more easily legislate themselves if they could do it at polling places. Petitions like this are not trying to change the election or anything on the current ballot. If all political power is inherent in the people, then it stands to reason that they shouldn’t make it more difficult for people to exercise their political power.”
Bishop also said that though he thinks the Sheriff’s Office was wrong on this occasion, he feels that Sheriff Chris West is a big believer in freedom.
As for his own views, Bishop said that he wishes more Oklahomans would realize that they have the power to change legislation.
“I think in general, Oklahomans take for granted their right to legislate. We elect people and then complain. But we can pass laws ourselves with petitions. State Question 788 did it,” he said.
Bishop said he is confident that grassroots movements can make a big difference for the state. He hopes that more petition movements will be started by actual Oklahomans rather than out of state entities.
District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader and District 2 Commissioner David Anderson did not support calling a vote by resolution. Hader did say, however, that he supported the initiative’s right to petition. He feels that petitioners can take pride in their efforts.
District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart, on the other hand, said he would have supported a resolution.
Bishop said that though he won’t continue the effort in the future, anyone who wants to can open a record request for the petition and start over. If done within the next two years, the numbers required will remain the same.