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Low voter turnout in Crutcho could be a sign of larger decline in civic engagement

Only five voters went to the polls in Crutcho for Tuesday's bond election. Experts say that low turnout undermines the legitimacy of the system.
by Silas Allen Published: November 17, 2013

Finding a voter in Crutcho can be almost as difficult as finding the community's downtown.

The unincorporated area in eastern Oklahoma County is home to about 900 registered voters. But in any given election, only a handful of people typically turn out to vote.

Experts say that low turnout could be a sign of a larger problem: a steady decline in civic involvement and the disconnect some voters may feel between themselves and the political system.

Only five voters in the district voted in a bond election Tuesday, in which $980,000 in school improvements were approved. Out of those five voters in Tuesday's election, two — Antonia Jennings and Paul Keeler — are members of the Crutcho School Board, according to Oklahoma County Election Board records.

Tuesday's showing isn't an exception, but part of a pattern of low voter turnout for local elections in the district, according to election board records. Just 10 people showed up to vote on school propositions in May 2011 and February 2010.

Although Tuesday's turnout was a bit smaller than usual, the district generally doesn't see more than a handful of voters in any local election, said Doug Sanderson, Oklahoma County Election Board secretary.

“Generally, not that many people vote out there,” he said.

As she bundled her granddaughter into her car in the parking lot of Crutcho School on Thursday afternoon, Karen Hollis admitted she didn't make it to the polls Tuesday.

Hollis said she thinks it's important to vote, and she generally tries to make it to the polls when she can. But Tuesday, doctor appointments kept her away. Besides, she said, she didn't know the bond issue was on the ballot. She hadn't heard anything about it from her granddaughter's school.

“Usually, if there's something big, they'll let me know,” she said.

Tim Gray, who served on the Crutcho school board for 12 years, said the district once included more homeowners. Today, it's mostly made up of rental properties and Section 8 housing, where there's a high turnover rate. Many of these people are Air Force service members at nearby Tinker Air Force Base and aren't in the area permanently. All this means many residents may not feel connected to the community or the school district, contributing to the low turnout, Gray said.

Gray, who was one of the five voters in Tuesday's election, said he's gotten used to seeing elections in the district attract only a few people. During one school board race in which he was a candidate, only 74 people voted.

“It's not uncommon for the Crutcho district to be low,” he said.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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