Oklahoma’s campaign season is underway.

The filing period for statewide, legislative and judicial offices closed earlier this month and the full candidate roster will be finalized when the State Election Board holds its contest of candidacy hearings today.

But, as I wrote about last week for Oklahoma Watch, 44% of the 125 legislative races on the ballot this year have already been decided.

That’s because, in 55 House or Senate races, only one person filed by the April 15 deadline, earning those candidates an elected office without securing a vote or making their case to voters. 

Does it have to be this way?

I received some feedback from readers on what Oklahoma can do about the large number of uncontested races we’ve seen in recent years.

Some — such as waiting for the next redistricting round in 2030 to create more competitive districts — would take some time. Others suggested party leaders, specifically Democrats who have struggled to field candidates in rural Oklahoma, need to be more proactive in recruiting candidates.

I was also reminded of a bill eligible to be heard this session that would have placed incumbents on a retention ballot if they didn’t draw a challenger. If they receive 51 percent of the vote or more, they are re-elected. If they don’t, a special election would be called to fill that seat.

The proposal, House Bill 3059, was not heard in committee by a legislative deadline and will not be considered this year.

I talked with Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City, who authored the bill, earlier this year. Though he and other incumbents stand to benefit from the current law — Fugate is among 55 legislators who automatically won after not drawing a challenger — he said it doesn’t hold lawmakers accountable and it doesn’t produced the most engaged constituency.

“The bottom line is voters should always have the final say,” he said. “When the choice is already made for them, that’s not good for representative democracy.”

Of course, Fugate’s proposal has some potential downsides. For one, there could be costs for the special election. And it’s possible that this still wouldn’t bring more candidates to the races.

This is a topic I plan to continue to explore throughout the year so I would love to hear your thoughts on how Oklahoma can deal with this issue or if you think it’s even possible. Let me know what you think by emailing me at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or finding me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.

Tweet Watch

Several candidates running for state, legislative or judicial office could be kicked off the ballot today. The State Election Board will meet at 8:45 a.m. to hear 12 election challenges and decide whether the contested candidates can remain on the ballot. 

Many of the challenges are being contested on residency requirements. But in the labor commissioner race, the election board will decide if state Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, can remain in the race since he is being challenged over wanting to be referred to as Sean “The Patriot” Roberts on the ballot. Read more in the Oklahoman about this usual case.

You can also view the whole contests of candidacy list and the related petitions here.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday gave final passage to legislation that would allow state officials to offer a $698 million financial incentive package to entice a multibillion-dollar company to locate near Tulsa. [The Oklahoman]
  • Legislation barring the state from issuing new or amended birth certificates listing gender as anything except “male” or “female” won final passage from the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday and is headed to Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is expected to sign it. [Tulsa World]
  • The state’s top law enforcement official says he hasn’t reviewed Swadley’s Foggy Bottom’s controversial contract, despite an alleged $4.5 million in excessive payments. [The Frontier]
  • The Oklahoma State Senate has unanimously approved a bill that would require state agencies accepting a service contract, whether it’s a bid or not, to list the city, state, and country in which the services will be provided. [KFOR]
  •  The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled two marijuana initiative petitions were valid. Both seek to gather 178,000 signatures to ask voters to change the constitution. [Tulsa World]

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