Oklahomans have had plenty of opportunities to vote lately. 

They could weigh in on several local and county races on April 4. For some, it was the fourth or fifth time in five months they’d been eligible to cast a ballot. 

Turnout, as expected, was low statewide. Less than 10% of registered voters in the Oklahoma County clerk race. The Warr Acres Ward 1 city council race, where just 209 voters cast a ballot, was decided by a single vote. 

The lackluster participation prompted some discussion on social media: In the interest of better civic engagement, should Oklahoma lawmakers combine some elections and reduce how frequently voters are asked to show up at the polls?

One proposal to place local candidates on the November general election ballot has cleared the upper chamber.

Senate Bill 244 by Sen. Ally Seifried, R-Claremore and Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, would shift school board elections from April to November. Candidates running in even-numbered years would appear on the ballot alongside those running for statewide offices or legislative seats. 

The Senate advanced the bill last month on a 31-15 vote, with Democrats and a handful of Republicans voting in opposition. The bill is pending in the House Common Education Committee, from which it must advance this week to continue in the legislative process. 

Seifried cited a February school board primary in Claremore where less than 4% of eligible voters cast a ballot. 

“I think moving this date is a good thing because voters are used to voting in November and when we get close we start looking at our ballots,” Seifried said. “This would provide voters the opportunity to get informed, look at the candidates’ profiles and ask questions.”

Such a plan has several potential pitfalls, said Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City. Kirt argued that placing local candidates on the general election ballot would increase the likelihood of partisan politics creeping into races and make it more difficult for candidates to reach voters already bombarded with political messages from well-funded campaigns. 

Kirt noted that school board elections have only been on their current schedule since 2019, and more time may be necessary to see the long-term impact on voter turnout. 

“This would be a pretty dramatic change when we haven’t even seen the results of the previous change,” she said on the Senate floor. “If we’re looking to improve voter participation, we need to look at the big-picture things like the ability to register to vote online.”

Is there a smart way to reduce the number of elections in Oklahoma without making the ballot unnecessarily long and cumbersome? Or do voters just need to do a better job of showing up under the current schedule? Let me know at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org

What I’m Reading

  • Millions of Dollars Meant to Boost Broadband Access in Oklahoma Has Gone to Emergency Responders Instead: Legislators previously rejected such a plan to divert the funds meant to boost broadband internet speeds and access in rural areas. [The Frontier]
  • Report: More than $26K Spent After Distribution Error of Benefits Cards: While the Department of Human Services was able to freeze and cancel more than $871,700 before it was spent, the families of 357 ineligible students had already spent $26,700 before their Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) accounts could be blocked, according to a DHS analysis released in response to CNHI Oklahoma’s request. [CNHI Oklahoma]
  • ‘Not Their Job’: Legislature Ties Up $600 Million They Say Health Care Authority was ‘Shopping’: A House appropriations committee advanced a bill Wednesday that functionally stops the Oklahoma Health Care Authority from spending $600 million without lawmakers’ input. Lawmakers at the hearing expressed frustration that OHCA had been speaking with various groups about how they might spend the money. [NonDoc]

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