This year’s elections probably didn’t do much to change Oklahoma’s reputation as one of the least politically engaged states in the union.
Although the number of registered voters increased by about 175,000 from the last mid-term election in 2018, the share of them actually submitting ballots declined — from 56.1% to 50.3%
It is, perhaps, understandable. Of the nine statewide and five U.S. House races, only two were even semi-competitive. No state questions were on the ballot, and only 37 of a possible 125 legislative seats were contested — and the term applies only loosely in most of those cases.
For the 51 statewide, U.S. House and legislative elections, the average winner’s share of the vote was 63.3%. In only 15 of the 51 did the winner get less than 60%. Fourteen winners, including three Democrats, received more than 70%, and one of those topped 80%.
People are also reading…
The closest election was in state House District 79, in southeast Tulsa, where Democratic incumbent Melissa Provenzano beat Republican Paul Hassink 52% to 48%, by 393 votes.
“It is generally accepted that competition drives turnout,” said Michael Crespin, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Carl Albert Center. “This is for two reasons. First, people are excited about voting and have more of a sense that their vote matters. Second, in competitive races campaigns put more effort into getting out the vote.”
Crespin said that includes “more information so deciding who to vote for is easier.”
University of Tulsa political science professor Matt Hindman said last year’s redistricting might be a factor, too.
Hindman said state legislators redraw districts with at least a couple of things in mind: Protecting the party that draws the districts (Republicans, in Oklahoma’s case), and maximizing “safe” districts to protect incumbents.
Although the legislative committee that redrew Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional districts said party affiliation information was not considered, few incumbents — including Democrats — wound up with more difficult districts.
And as it turned out, only one incumbent, state Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, lost. But even Dossett’s heavily Republican district actually became somewhat less so in redistricting; it also, however, picked up quite a few new voters outside his base in Owasso.
“These (new) districts will be in place for a decade,” Hindman said. “I suspect that by the end of the decade, we will see a bit more competition in these races as populations shift. We’ll still have a large number of noncompetitive, safe seats, but those seats are generally never safer than in the map’s first election in existence.”
Crespin said he’s inclined to attribute much of the turnout decline from 2018 to a “reversion to the mean” — in other words, 2018 was an unusually high turnout year for Oklahoma because of frustration over budget shortfalls and what was perceived as lack of responsiveness to education issues.
“We are down a bit compared to 2018,” Crespin said, “but still up a lot compared to 2014. Big picture: There weren’t that many competitive races in the state to drive up turnout, but that tends to be the norm.”
Tulsa World Opinion podcast: Education impact from election; straight-party voting hurts candidate quality and turnout