Next week's primary election, scheduled a month earlier than normal, and the lack of statewide races will result in a low turnout of voters, political analysts and advisers agreed Thursday.
“It's going to be the weakest ever,” said Ben Odom, a longtime Democratic Party strategist and a former state Democratic Party official.
“There are isolated pockets throughout the state where there's a hot local race that will drive interest and drive turnout, but for large portions of the electorate, there is only maybe perhaps one race to vote on or maybe even none in the primary,” Odom said during a “Political Junkies” discussion in Oklahoma City, sponsored by the University of Oklahoma Political Communications Center. “It's a most interesting challenge for the candidates and for the consultants and everyone else to try to figure out who's actually going to bother to vote this time.”
The only statewide race is the Republican contest for corporation commissioner. Commissioner Bob Anthony was elected in 1988 to the state's three-member energy, transportation and utility regulatory panel. He is being challenged by Brooks Mitchell, a former director of administration for the commission. The victor will win a six-year term on the commission; no Democrat or independent filed for it.
“People are not engaged in this election,” said Neva Hill, political consultant who has mostly Republican clients. “The earlier primary date has been a big influence. It will be an election where the folks that do the best job of turning out their people are the ones that likely will be the winners on Tuesday.
“We've got a very unusual election cycle where we don't have any statewide races driving turnout,” she said.
Voter participation should be better in eastern Oklahoma where six Republicans and three Democrats are seeking the open 2nd Congressional District seat, Odom said. U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, is not seeking re-election.
“Unless you're in eastern Oklahoma, where they're getting a lot of the congressional ads, the public is just now beginning to realize, ‘Oh heck, this thing's next week,'” Odom said.
Voter interest also should be higher in Tulsa where U.S. Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa, is facing a tough challenge from Jim Bridenstine in Tuesday's Republican primary election.
Pat Hall, a consultant and former executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Tuesday's primary election may catch voters by surprise. He said candidates, in addition to talking about their issues, also have to educate voters that the primary election is Tuesday.
“The election's a month earlier and if you're going to vote you'd better remember to vote,” Hall said.
State laws were passed last year so Oklahoma election officials could comply with a federal law requiring election officials to email ballots early enough so military members stationed overseas, as well as registered voters living abroad, have plenty of time to vote and return their ballots in time to be counted.
Lawmakers could have kept the primary election in late July by doing away with runoff elections. Current law requires runoffs for the top two vote getters who fail to get a majority of votes cast among a field of three or more contenders. Lawmakers didn't consider that option. Many said voters like runoffs.
Oklahoma has a closed primary system, meaning only registered Democrats and Republicans may vote for candidates in Tuesday's elections. Some cities are having special elections, and those races and issues are open in most cases to any registered voter.
at a glance
Early voting is Friday, Saturday and Monday at county election boards. Voting times are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Monday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
Voter registration for the June 26 primary election is closed, but registration is still open for those wishing to vote in the Aug. 28 runoff primary election and the Nov. 6 general election.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.