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Oklahoma Democratic Party data policy favors incumbents, candidate says

by Randy Ellis Published: June 1, 2014
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Democrat Bruce Fisher says when he decided to run for the state House of Representatives, he thought he could count on the Oklahoma Democratic Party to assist all Democratic candidates equally in getting their messages out to voters.

Instead, Fisher says he encountered a system that favors incumbents.

“I’m shocked,” said Fisher, 62, of Oklahoma City. “The Democratic Party, of all parties, should be encouraging the most participation and fairest opportunity for the electorate to choose who they want to represent them.”

What has Fisher upset is a decision by Oklahoma Democratic Party officials to revoke his access to a voter database maintained by the Democratic Party after his primary opponent, incumbent Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, decided to seek re-election in House District 97.

Fisher said the database is a “brilliant tool” that is critical to running an effective campaign. It contains difficult-to-obtain information, such as contact information for district voters, as well as their voting histories. The data enables campaign workers to efficiently target their efforts toward Democratic voters most likely to vote in the upcoming June 24 primary election, he said.

Complicated decisions

Trav Robertson, executive director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said policy decisions regarding access are more complicated than they might at first appear.

When the state Democratic Party licenses candidates to use the voter database, it requires those candidates to update the database with information obtained in the course of their campaigns.

Candidates gather and update the database with information such as voter email addresses, updated telephone numbers, addresses they have determined to be wrong and the identities of deceased voters.

That information then is available to assist Democratic candidates running for other offices as well as future candidates for the same office.

Robertson said it would seem unfair to require an incumbent candidate who has painstakingly gathered and contributed voter information to the database to turn that information over so it could be used by a candidate running against him or her.

“The pragmatic aspect of it is that some of the data that is put back into the voter file, in any other profession would be considered proprietary in nature,” Robertson said.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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