IN 1960, the number of Oklahomans registered as political independents could fit comfortably in the combined, modest seating capacity of the performing arts auditoriums in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Today those independents would fill Chesapeake Energy Arena 12 times over.
Voter registration trends in this state carry two headlines. One is the rise of the independent voter. The other is the Incredible Shrinking Plurality of the Democratic Party. Having peaked in registration in 1989, at more than 1.4 million, registered Oklahoma Democrats now number about 888,000. Republican registration, meantime, is still climbing.
Trends indicate that GOP registration will surpass Democratic registration in a few years. But voter registration may be less significant than voter preference. Six weeks from now, the state will be one year away from a major election in which most statewide offices, five U.S. House seats and a U.S. Senate post will be on the ballot. Yet no credible Democratic candidates have emerged for most of those offices and perhaps for none of them.
The rise of the independent voter is phenomenal in a state where those who are registered as independent can't participate in the primary elections at which nominees are chosen. They can only wait until the November election and vote for either the Democrat or the Republican on the ballot — or the occasional independent, who has little chance of winning.
Thus, independent voters voluntarily surrender their right to choose candidates at the nominating level. Despite this, the state had more than a quarter of a million independent voters as the year began. Since 2000, independent registration is up by nearly 34 percent and Republican registration is up by about 16 percent. In the same time period, Democratic registration has fallen by more than 25 percent.