ShareVoter apathy dooms challengers

Voter apathy dooms challengers

By Steve Lackmeyer and Jack Money Published: July 24, 2000
Oklahoma City's Ward 4 Councilwoman Frances Lowrey faced an easy re-election four years ago. She was the only candidate to file for the race.

Even if she had faced a challenger, it's likely just a fraction of her ward would have decided the outcome. A review of recent local elections shows citizen participation in local government is abysmal.

Only 4 percent of registered Ward 6 voters cast ballots when Ann Simank won re-election for a second four-year term in 1999. Only 6 percent voted in a race that put Amy U. Brooks into the Ward 2 seat vacated by Councilman Mark Schwartz earlier that year.

The 1998 mayoral race set a high-water mark in local politics when 21 percent of the city's 235,505 registered voters cast ballots in the primary battle among seven candidates, including three sitting council members.

Veteran political consultant Don Hoover isn't surprised.

Hoover, who handled races for Brooks, Schwartz and once for Jack Cornett, said incumbents are hard to unseat unless they've developed "very strong negatives."

A council position only pays $20 a week, yet Hoover estimates the cost of winning the office at between $50,000 and $60,000.

The money pays for radio and print advertising, phone banks and maybe even a political consultant like Hoover.

"There is no substitute, though, for a candidate meeting with active people in various neighborhoods and knocking on doors," Hoover said. "That makes the difference because turnout is usually very very low unless there is something else on the ballot driving the voting, like MAPS or something else that has high visibility."

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