Oklahoma Voters Surge to Polls

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Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch

A line of voters is seen at the Midfair Center polling station on Nov. 6, 2018. Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma’s voters came out in force for Tuesday’s midterm election, reflecting in part a national surge of people flocking to the polls after more than a year of divisive political conflict.

More than 1.18 million people cast votes in the Oklahoma gubernatorial race, typically the top race in the state’s midterm election years. That’s 56 percent of the state’s 2.12 million registered voters. Helping drive the numbers was strong early voting.

“We’re very pleased with the overall turnout,” said Paul Ziriax, state Election Board secretary. “It’s far surpassed the 2014 and 2010 elections. We’ll have to check, but it may be the highest turnout midterm election we’ve had in Oklahoma. In the past, we’ve considered anything over 50 percent of registered voters turning out for a midterm election to be pretty good.”

Oklahoma’s 2018 election turnout exceeded the 40 percent turnout in 2014, when outgoing Gov. Mary Fallin beat Democrat Joe Dorman by almost 15 percentage points to cruise to her second term. It also surpassed the 51 percent turnout in the 2010 gubernatorial election, when Fallin beat Democrat Jari Askins.

Overall, Oklahoma returned to form Tuesday as a deeply red state with pockets of blue. Republicans captured every statewide seat. Among the few bright spots for legislative Democrats was the election of Carri Hicks and Julia Kirt in two previously Republican Senate districts in Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, Democrat Kendra Horn beat two-term GOP Rep. Steve Russell in Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district.

Political observers, and media from outside the state, have portrayed Oklahoma as a place rising up in resistance to Republican leadership that refused to give teachers a pay raise for years and failed to adequately fund education. A teacher walkout and bitter fight in the Legislature over the state budget spurred widespread anger.

But the election’s large turnout, if helping usher into office a number of pro-education candidates, didn’t upend or dilute Republican control of state offices and the Legislature.

The election did show that voters were itching to get to the polls, as they cast more than 173,000 early votes, far ahead of 2014 early voting. Absentee mail voters made up 66,100, while 107,100 people voted early in person this year. In 2014, early and mail voting totaled about 70,000.

“This year’s (early voting) blows the doors off 2014,” said Ziriax, who added that several statewide candidates were unopposed in that general election and voter enthusiasm was low. Turnout of registered voters was 41 percent in 2014.