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Early vote, lack of races add up to low turnout

Filed by KOSU News in Feature, Local News, Oklahoma Votes, Politics.
June 26, 2012
 

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It’s just a little more than a week until July 4th, a time when we celebrate our democratic freedom. But today, on this Primary Day in Oklahoma, there’s an expectation few statewide will actually exercise our right to vote, so critical to a strong democracy. But in some districts with particularly competitive races, some are expecting strong turnout…

Over the weekend, Mary Jo Smith had her friend Debbie up from Duncan, Texas, and one thing jumped out to her…

“I saw some signs and I thought there must be an election and we have one in Duncan on Tuesday.”

That’s in Tulsa, where there’s not only a heated congressional primary between incumbent John Sullivan and challenger Jim Bridenstine, but also a state Senate race. Local businessman Kevin McDugle is challenging incumbent Brian Crain

“People know that this is a primary coming up Tuesday, people are well aware of it. A lot of folks are going to show up because of the Jim Bridenstine campaign.”

Signs blanket much of the city, you can’t pass a corner without getting bombarded by the eye grabbing colors and block lettering. It’s a different situation in Stillwater, where finding people willing to even talk about the primary was a challenge. Most simply didn’t know one was coming up. As I asked, “Do you think a lot of your neighbors, a lot of your friends are aware?”, I got a simple “No.”

Gene Ritter is from Stillwater and says he’s voted in every election since the 1950’s. But even for him, it took some effort to figure out the primary is today. Lawn signs are few and far between, radio and TV advertisements nonexistent. There’s no race for state representative or Senator in Payne County, so no reason to spend the money. Fewer people might show up for another reason too, says OSU political science professor Jim Davis

“If it’s earlier, people haven’t got their minds on elections yet. Because the one that really stirs people to vote is the national election, and that’s further off now.”

First, in 2010, the US Congress passed legislation requiring 45 days between federal elections. And shortly after, Governor Fallin signed into law a bill mirroring that for state elections. So in case a runoff is needed between the primary and general, the date will now sit at the end of June, instead of July.

“I’m not sure people have that ingrained in their memory anyway. I think the news media has done a very good job of helping the state and county election boards promote the fact that we have an election, whenever an election occurs,” said state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax.

He’s not convinced the change will mean lower turnout. Instead, he looks at the statewide races. There’s only one, and it’s for Corporation Commissioner. If you don’t care enough to vote for your state senator or representative, what’s going to bring you out for Corporation Commissioner, invisible to all but a few.

“What is on the ballot will usually drive turnout. If there are high profile races where the public is seeing television ads, or hearing radio ads or getting mail from candidates, I think there much likely to be paying attention.”

Back inside a coffee shop in Tulsa, even the “don’t miss an election unless I have to” people say forget the date, they just listen to radio, watch TV, and read the paper to get the information they need.

“I don’t keep track of the dates actually. I just, whenever they say it’s time, you go.”

Of the 22 Republican primaries today, 18 of the winners will automatically earn a seat in the Oklahoma Legislature. Simply, a lot of these primaries could essentially be the general election. And some districts, like Senate District 39, skew heavily Republican.

“I don’t know that people realize that, but the primary this year is really going to decide who their next state Senator is.”

Kevin McDugle, running against Brian Crain, says today’s vote is critical. In those competitive races, it’s all about whether there’s awareness of the importance of today’s election. In the other ones, it’s whether people even know to vote.

Redistricting has changed many of the polling places today. To find out where you can vote, call your county election board or click here. And just a reminder that to vote, you need a valid government issued ID. That could include a driver’s license, passport, or voter ID. Polls are open from 7 AM until 7 PM today. We’ll have live coverage starting at 7 tonight on KOSU.

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