Electoral participation is a cornerstone of our representative democracy. The vote allows citizens to participate freely and fairly in the political process and ensures that elected officials stay accountable to their constituents.
Yet in Oklahoma we are seeing growing signs of the breakdown of electoral participation. For example:
- In this year’s midterm elections, less than 30 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls to cast a ballot for Governor and other offices. This was the lowest turnout in at least 50 years and perhaps in state history.
- In 65 of 101 seats for the state House of Representatives, the winner was decided without voters casting a ballot in the general election.
- In primary runoff elections this fall, average turnout was 18 percent, and for the two statewide Democratic runoff contests, barely one in ten registered party members cast a ballot.
- In the 2012 November Presidential election, Oklahoma’s voter turnout was just 52.4 percent, third worst in the nation.
- Only 66 percent of voting-age citizens in Oklahoma are even registered to vote, the nation’s eighth lowest registration rate.
It hasn’t always been like this. As late as 2004, Oklahoma’s voter registration rate and turnout rate remained on a par with or just above the national average.
Many voices have lamented Oklahoma’s declining electoral participation, but often the only solution offered is to urge our friends, neighbors, and colleagues to be better citizens. But in reality, the electoral rules and practices established by Oklahoma’s state lawmakers and officials are part of the reason why electoral participation is so low. And there are many reforms Oklahoma could adopt that would help repair our broken democracy by boosting voter turnout and electoral competition.
A new OK Policy issue brief reviews the numerous signs of weakening electoral participation in Oklahoma and considers some of the factors that may be hindering Oklahomans from fuller participation. We then lay out a broad range of possible reforms, which include:
continue reading New report shares ideas for repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy