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School elections get failing grade

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board and Ray Carter Modified: June 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm •  Published: February 16, 2013

What happens if they hold an election and no one comes? That’s increasingly the case in school elections, which cedes policy control to a tiny fraction of the population.

In Oklahoma City, where an important race for school board chair was on the ballot this week, only 6,583 people voted, roughly 5 percent of those eligible. Turnout in other school districts was also abysmal: Deer Creek (6 percent), Edmond (5 percent), and only 3 percent in both Putnam City and Western Heights. Turnout in February school elections typically ranges from just 8 percent to 15 percent.

Turnout in the Harrah School District reached 20 percent, but it’s a real indictment that such a “good” turnout means just one in five voters showed up. Given that many people don’t register to vote, low turnout means some school board elections and multimillion-dollar bond issues are potentially being decided by as few as one in 50 adults.

That’s a recipe for fringe groups to take over the process, and also illustrates the problems created by holding school elections in February, separate from major elections. The races are so low key, many voters don’t even know they’re occurring.

One solution previously suggested by state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax is to hold local elections, including school board and city elections, in November of odd-numbered years, and move school districts from annual elections to every other year. That still seems a good idea to us. The benefits of democracy are lost when no one participates.

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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by Ray Carter
Editorial Writer
Ray Carter joined The Oklahoman in May 2012 after serving as Media Director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives for over seven years. A native of Oklahoma, Carter has worked in the newspaper and public relations businesses since 1998.
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