The question of who is and isn’t voting in Oklahoma elections, and why, has been top of mind for me since I took on the Democracy beat for Oklahoma Watch last summer.
In my latest story, I examined why Oklahomans 30 and under vote at a lower rate than older generations and what could be done to boost their civic engagement. Less than 25% of voters between 18 and 30 cast a ballot in November, and fewer than 10% showed up to vote on State Question 820 on March 7.
The gap between young voter turnout and overall turnout, in both midterm and presidential elections, is nothing new. Young people tend to have less political experience and move more often than older generations, contributing in part to the disparity.
But turnout within the 18-to-30 demographic dropped more than 6% from 2018 to 2022, according to the data from State Election Board’s voter information warehouse, signaling a decline in interest.
The impact of low young voter participation is clear, according to the experts I spoke with for the story: When you opt not to vote or throw your name into a race as a candidate, your interests likely won’t be as well represented within all levels of government.
What’s less obvious is how to best encourage civic engagement among people in their late teens and twenties, and whether that’s an issue of public policy or non-government outreach.
Peter de Guzman, a researcher with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, told me there’s no “silver bullet” policy or program for states to boost young voter turnout. But states that allow fully online voter registration, preregistration beginning at age 16 and youth poll worker programs tend to see more participation, he said.
Outreach is also a significant component of youth turnout, de Guzman told me. Because many young people have a scarce voting history, political parties and campaigns sometimes may have to pay more to reach them.
Finally, the competitiveness of races on the ballot can factor in. Most Oklahoma voters didn’t get to elect their state lawmakers last November, as nearly 70% of races were decided by the candidate filing period or single-party primaries.
You can read my story here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Is there something relevant to this discussion that I didn’t cover? Do you know of any civic engagement programs, statewide or local, that aim to equip young voters in Oklahoma? Let me know at kross@Oklahomawatch.org, or send me a DM on Twitter.
Oklahoma voters will decide on county and municipal issues tomorrow, Tuesday, April 4. To view a sample ballot and confirm your polling place, visit the OK Voter Portal.
What I’m Reading This Week
- House Rep. Dean Davis Censured for Arrest, ‘Debate’ With Officers: The consequences for Davis, a Republican from Broken Arrow, include his removal from all committees, an action that will be rescinded if Davis issues a formal apology that is released to the public and sent to the Oklahoma City Police Department. The House voted 81-9 on the censure on March 27. [NonDoc]
- Why Three Major Companies Have Passed on Expanding in Oklahoma: Some officials blame a combination of a lack of qualified workers, infrastructure and incentives that haven’t kept pace with other states. Others say Oklahoma’s conservative politics are holding the state back, including a near-total ban on abortion and pending legislation to restrict gender-affirming care. [The Frontier]
- State Pauses Child Nutrition Program After Error in Distributing Cards: The cards are supposed to provide supplemental nutrition assistance benefits to children who qualify to receive free or reduced-priced meals through their schools. The Department of Human Services said Tuesday that it has stopped payment on all Oklahoma P-EBT cards until the education department can check its data to ensure the federal funds are going to the correct families. [CNHI]
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