Packed Primary Ballot Awaits Oklahoma Voters on Tuesday

Jun 25, 2016

Oklahoma voters head to the polls on Tuesday for a primary election in which every Republican and independent in the state will have some contest to decide, along with most registered Democrats.

Each of the state's five incumbent Republican U.S. House members face a GOP challenger, but there are only Democratic primary contests in congressional races for the sprawling 2nd District in eastern Oklahoma, 4th District in central and south-central Oklahoma, and the 5th District in the Oklahoma City area.

There also are no Republican or Democratic primary contests in the race for Oklahoma's U.S. Senate seat, as both incumbent U.S. Sen. James Lankford and Democrat Mike Workman of Tulsa automatically advance to the general election.

Here are a few other things to know about Tuesday's election:

INCUMBENTS HAVE THE MONEY: Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports through June 8 show four of Oklahoma's five incumbent U.S. House members have a major fundraising advantage over their opponents. In the race for the 1st Distrct in Tulsa, two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine's still has a fundraising edge over oilman Tom Atkinson, but Atkinson stayed competitive with the help of a $400,000 personal loan to his campaign, his report shows.

LIBERTARIANS ON THE BALLOT: For the first time in more than 15 years, Libertarians are a registered political party in Oklahoma after a successful signature drive and are featured in the only statewide primary race, a contest for U.S. Senate featuring party activists Dax Ewbank of Guthrie and Robert Murphy of Norman.

INDEPENDENTS' SMORGASBORD: Oklahoma's more than 280,000 registered independents not only have a chance to vote on Tuesday, but in most districts will be able to choose between a Libertarian or Democratic ballot. The Oklahoma Democratic Party voted last year to open its primary elections to independents as part of a push to attract interest from the fastest growing segment of the state's electorate - registered independents. The Libertarian Party also has an open primary.

WHAT CAN VOTERS DO?: The best thing for voters to do ahead of Tuesday's election is be prepared, said Oklahoma County Election Board Secretary Doug Sanderson, who has overseen elections in the state's largest county for more than 20 years. "The best thing a voter can do is not go to the polls without knowing their polling location," Sanderson said. He encouraged voters to use the state's online voter tool at ok.gov/elections, although he acknowledged the system isn't quite ready to provide registered independents with sample ballots.

LEGISLATIVE RACES: There are 57 primary elections in the House - 21 among Democrats and 36 for Republicans. In the Senate, there are seven Democratic primaries and 20 for Republicans, many of those for the 10 seats open because of term limits. Incumbent state senators who drew a primary challenge include Republicans Corey Brooks of Washington, Nathan Dahm of Broken Arrow, Kyle Loveless of Oklahoma City, Bryce Marlatt of Woodward, Dan Newberry of Tulsa, Ron Sharp of Shawnee, Wayne Shaw of Grove, Rob Standridge of Norman, and Democrat Kevin Matthews in Tulsa.

EDUCATION CANDIDATES: Growing frustration about cuts to public schools prompted dozens of political newcomers to run for office and swelled the number of candidates running this cycle to an all-time for a presidential election year. Many of the candidates are teachers or former teachers who decided to challenge Republican incumbents they perceived as not sufficiently supportive of public schools. One campaign that could serve as a primary litmus test for education candidates is Loveless' Republican primary challenge from longtime Mustang High School teacher and coach Mike Mason.

POLLS OPEN: Polling locations across Oklahoma will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day Tuesday. Early in-person voting ended Saturday. If no candidate gets a majority of the votes cast in the primary, a runoff primary election for the top two vote getters is set for Aug. 23. The general election is Nov. 8.