Less than four months removed from a heated general election cycle, Oklahoma voters head back to the polls. But how will the recreational marijuana state question influence turnout?

With few comparable contests, it’s anyone’s guess. On March 7, voters will decide on State Question 820, which proposes legalizing recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over and establishing a framework to expunge marijuana-related convictions. 

A series of delays, including snags in implementing a new signature verification system managed by an outside vendor, compounded it from making the November 2022 general election ballot. Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office countered speculation that politics played a role in delaying the vote as “not only inaccurate but just absolutely absurd.” 

With the option to set a special election date in 2023 or place the question on a 2024 ballot, Stitt opted for March 7. The special election will likely cost the state approximately $1.4 million, according to State Election Board recent estimates. 

The last time an Oklahoma state question appeared on a non-general or primary election was September 2005, when Oklahoma voters soundly rejected an initiative to increase fuel taxes to pay for the construction and repair of highways and bridges. Just over 400,000 Oklahomans, amounting to about 18% of registered voters at the time, weighed in on the question. 

Next week’s election is also unprecedented nationally. When voters in Arkansas, Missouri and Arizona recently decided on recreational marijuana questions over the past three years, the question appeared on a general election ballot, making it difficult to use those states to project turnout here. 

When the medical marijuana question appeared on the ballot for June 2018 primaries, it garnered more votes than the gubernatorial primaries combined. 

And those voters went to the polls with other issues on their minds. That primary election was held a few months after the statewide teacher walkout, which inspired dozens of educators to challenge incumbent state lawmakers who voted against teacher pay raises. Gov. Mary Fallin was terming out, which set the stage for competitive gubernatorial primary races. 

Attracting voters to the polls has long been a struggle in Oklahoma, which ranked last nationally in voter participation in the 2020 presidential election. The issue is compounded in so-called orphan counties, where residents receive local television news coverage from out-of-state networks and sometimes aren’t as informed on state issues. 

Now’s the time to make your plan to vote. Early voting opens from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 2 and Friday, March 3. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 7. Click here to find your polling place. There may be local issues on your ballot, so be sure to view your sample ballot on the OK Voter Portal before going to the polls

I plan on analyzing the SQ 820 election results on election night. Have story ideas — recreational marijuana-related or otherwise — that you think I should pursue? Let me know at Kross@oklahomawatch.org.

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What I’m Reading This Week

  • GOP Oklahoma Lawmakers Join Call For Death Penalty Pause: State Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, cited a recent Oklahoma poll suggesting support wanes considerably when respondents are offered sentencing options such as life in prison with or without parole. [Associated Press]
  • Pro-Cockfighting Group Has Spent More than $70K on Effort to Decriminalize Sport in Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, a political action committee, has donated to dozens of state lawmakers, including $2,000 to Gov. Kevin Stitt. Two pending bills would reclassify cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor offense. [The Oklahoman]
  • Former Brazilian President Bolsonaro Meets Stitt, Broken Arrow Officials During Oklahoma Visit: The right-wing politician has been compared to former President Donald Trump, in part for his years of promoting distrust in Brazil’s government institutions and voting system.  A Broken Arrow Police Department spokesman said it was a personal visit that involved no city business. [Tulsa World]

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