Legislative candidates in Oklahoma battle voter apathy

Voter turnout in Tuesday's runoff primary election dropped off from the primary election in June.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND AND MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: August 29, 2012 at 7:13 pm •  Published: August 30, 2012
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Ron Sharp said his biggest opponent in Tuesday's Republican primary runoff election for the Senate District 17 seat wasn't the other candidate.

“It's voter apathy,” Sharp said Wednesday. “That was more the problem than my opponent.”

About 3,300 people cast ballots in the election, which is roughly 16 percent of the registered Republicans living in the district which stretches from Shawnee north to parts of Oklahoma County.

Runoff elections traditionally have a lower turnout, state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said. The turnout in all eight legislative races Tuesday was lower than the percentage of voters who went to the polls in the June 26 primary election.

Turnout in legislative races range from 15.6 percent to 21.8 percent, according to unofficial election results; in June voter turnout ranged from 17.1 percent to 29.7 percent.

“For a runoff, obviously you'd like to see more people turn out,” Ziriax said.

He said Tuesday's turnout was “pretty decent” considering there were no statewide races. Some voters had only one race on their ballot.

Runoff elections are for candidates who failed to get a majority of votes cast among a field of three or more contenders in the primary election.

In the June primary, four candidates split the vote in the District 17 race, and Sharp finished second, a few percentage points behind his opponent, Ed Moore.

But Sharp said his campaign workers focused efforts on the historically most active voters, knowing that half the battle would be getting supporters out to the polls. He won by fewer than 100 votes.

Because no Democrat or independent filed for the post, Sharp's runoff election victory Tuesday means he will take office in mid-November.

Nathan Dahm had a similar experience in Tulsa, coming in second in a four-way primary, but winning the runoff.

He said he supports the runoff system.

“Hypothetically, you could have 10 candidates and one of them win with 11 percent of the vote,” Dahm said. “That's not representative of the people. We are a constitutional republic, but we do have a democratic process.”

The turnout in his runoff was almost 17 percent, which he said was higher than the estimates he had heard before Tuesday.

Dahm also will take office in mid-November because no Democrat or independent filed for the seat.

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