Voter Apathy in Oklahoma
At a young age most of us have been told how important voting is, and we certainly can’t go through a presidential year without being lectured by candidates that it’s the most important election ever.
But, according to the United States Election Project at George mason University, between 50% and 55% of eligible voters went to the polls in presidential years from 2000 to 2008
That number drops to about 40% during gubernatorial elections.
And the Edmond Sun reported back in February that a recent school board election saw just a 5% turnout.
An Oklahoma City Thunder game isn’t usually a place to talk about elections, and certainly there are a few people who refuse to vote like 28-year-old Chase Allen of Vinita.
He says he gets frustrated during election years like this one.
“Get it over with. I don’t really think anything about it. Nothing’s changed in years and I don’t see it changing anytime.”
Or 47-year old Ivory Bais who feels there’s too much corruption in politics and nothing changes.
“Well, I think it’s going to be the same whether we plug in a democrat or the tea party get in there, because the president don’t run this country, he’s got a board, a board of congress and they tell him what to do. It’s all a bunch of baloney to me.”
But sprinkled throughout the crowd in front of the Chesapeake Energy Arena are those who do vote.
Like, 26-year-old Walter Buffalomeat who refuses to get discouraged.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s not really going to matter because I know the outcome you know basically what the political makeup is of this state and what people are going to vote for, so as far as bigger elections go you kind of feel like it doesn’t really matter.”
For, LaReeca Herndon it’s the local races which are more important than who’s running for President and she wants to have a say in her government.
“Well the older I get the more important I feel, so maturity had a lot to do with that. I feel like it’s my way of giving my opinion on how I want or governments and the future of America to go.”
Seemingly a world away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Oklahoma City, Sharon Martin, an advocate against voter apathy is having lunch with her husband at the HenHouse café in Oilton.
“A democracy only works if you have educated voters, and it only works if everybody makes their voice heard.”
Martin says most Oklahomans are getting turned off by the constant barrage of political ads.
“30-second, 60-second ads that blast each other, you get sick of it and you also don’t see how what someone has picked out to focus on has to do with them.”
Meanwhile, the State Chamber is working to educate potential voters through its non-partisan program called the Prosperity Project which is currently being done in 42 states as well as Oklahoma.
Organizers work with 1,500 Oklahoma companies to educate more than 500,000 employees the importance of voting and the platform of statewide and legislative candidates without endorsing anyone.
The information is provided for employees, but can also be found at the prosperity project website.
Chamber Spokesperson Jennifer Monies says employees trust an employer’s opinion on civic and economic issues.
“If your employer is telling you something is important and that it’s important to go vote and be educated on these issues employees take that very seriously, more seriously than like fox news telling them to do it.”
And it seems to work.
Monies says while voting during presidential years can run in the mid 50% range, that number jumps to 90% for workers of companies belonging to the Prosperity Project.
But, that still doesn’t count for the dramatic drops in local turnout.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax says the calendar may also present some challenges.
He says Oklahoma differs from states like Kansas, Missouri and Texas which have set dates for non-statewide election.
“One month maybe you have your school elections the next month you may have municipal elections, the next month you’ve got a bond proposal for election and on and on.”
There was legislation in the past session which would have required all school elections to land in November of odd numbered years, but there was concern about school districts crossing over precinct lines causing confusion in polling station.
The election board uses its website to let people know what district they’re in and when and where they vote.
Ziriax says he hopes to eventually add a feature where voters could see their upcoming ballot.
Back at the HenHouse, Sharon Martin says there won’t be a major increase in voter turnout until candidates learn to reach people with everyday problems rather than hot-button issues.
“The issues that affect people where they live, and until we get back to what effects people where they live and they know that it affects people where they live, we’ll have the apathy.”
The State Election Board shows that in the past five months registered voter registrations have increased by more than 29,000.
The question now is will they come to the polls.
The primary election is on June 26th.