Repairing Oklahoma’s Broken Democracy

percentage-voting-OK-and-USElectoral 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 few of the reforms Oklahoma should consider include:

  • Voter Information Pamphlets. In at least 16 states, state law require that election officials publish and distribute a voter information pamphlet. These pamphlets, which can include information on state questions, sample ballots, absentee ballot information, candidate information and more, help voters be more informed about the issues and candidates they are voting on.
  • Online Voter Registration: At least 13 states allow voters to complete a voter registration application entirely online. Online registration saves money, increases the accuracy of voter lists, is easier for voters, and reduces the chances of Election Day mix-ups.
  • Extend mail-in voting: Three states – Colorado, Oregon and Washington – now conduct all elections entirely by mail, while almost 20 others allow at least some all-mail elections. Mail-in elections are less expensive and administratively simpler to operate, and eliminate a host of problems associated with voters not being able to get to the polls or not knowing where to vote. Alternately, seven states currently allows voters to opt for ‘permanent absentee status,” which means that they will automatically be mailed an absentee ballot for each election.
  • Ballot Access Reform: Oklahoma has the nation’s most restrictive ballot access laws, which gives voter fewer choices and discourages participation among those who don’t identify with the two major parties. Lowering the threshold for political parties and independent Presidential candidates to get on the ballot, as well as reducing the signature threshold for initiative petitions, would give Oklahoma a fuller range of choices.
  • Open Primaries: In Oklahoma, all primary elections are restricted to registered party voters, which leaves the growing number of political independents with no voice in selecting which candidate will appear on the general election ballot. A majority of states operate some form of open primary system.
  • Instant Run-off Primaries: Oklahoma’s current primary run-off system consistently has been shown to depress voter turnout. An alternative is the instant run-off, or preferential ballot, where voters rank candidates in order of preference and the votes of losing candidates are transferred up to second- and third-choices until one candidate gains a majority. The instant run-off allows voters to more fully express their electoral preferences and encourages candidates to engage a broader range of voters.

Together, these reforms, along with others that are discussed in our full election brief, have the potential to create a better informed and more highly engaged electorate and to reverse the state’s trends towards declining electoral participation

More important than the adoption of any particular reform identified here is simply that more policymakers and opinion leaders acknowledge the seriousness of declining political participation in Oklahoma and work to address the problem.  Unless Oklahoma can find a way to reinvigorate our democracy and get more citizens engaged in the political process, we will have little chance of solving the great substantive challenges we face as a state.

Medicaid Expansion’s Track Record Shows It’s a Good Deal for Oklahoma

In 2012, Gov. Fallin announced that Oklahoma would reject a central feature of the Affordable Care Act, refusing to expand health insurance coverage for low-income adults the infusion of federal funds that would have accompanied expansion. Two years after the Governor’s announcement, the experience in the state shows it was the wrong decision.

Expanding the state’s Medicaid program would have extended insurance coverage to roughly 150,000 people – approximately 1 in 5 of the state’s uninsured. Now, those 150,000 Oklahomans are caught in the “coverage crater.” They earn too much for traditional Medicaid, but don’t qualify for subsidies to purchase health insurance on the online marketplace.

Comparing Oklahoma to similar states that did accept expansion clearly shows that the Governor made the wrong choice. Arkansas, Kentucky and New Jersey are just three of the 28 states that have expanded their Medicaid programs, and are using the accompanying funding to in innovative ways to improve not only their states’ health outcomes, but also their local economies and state budgets. (more…)

Oklahoma Poverty Profile

Poverty Profile 2013 Page 1Poverty Profile 2013 Page 2The 2013 Oklahoma Poverty Profile is a 2-page fact sheet that displays data and information about poverty in the state through concise and colorful charts and infographics, summarizing key findings from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Just over 625,000 Oklahomans lived in poverty in 2013, or about one in six state residents. 

Download the 2013 Oklahoma Poverty Profile

Other blog posts and resources on poverty

Oklahoma Poverty Profile Archives

All data is available from the US Census Bureau

Infographic illustrates why Oklahoma should end drilling tax break

A new infographic from Together Oklahoma, a coalition which includes Oklahoma Policy Institute, shows why Oklahoma needs to reign in a tax break for horizontal drilling.

What It Means for Oklahoma Schools

The cost of Oklahoma’s tax break for horizontal drilling has skyrocketed, and it is draining funding from Oklahoma schools. 

By allowing the tax break to expire, more than $250 million could be made available to Oklahoma schools, enough to restore funding that was cut during the recession. Revenue from eliminating the tax break could boost school funding by as much as $370 per pupil this year.

HorizontalMainGraphic

Download a high resolution copy of the infographic here. (more…)

What the horizontal drilling tax break is costing your kids’ school

drilling-educationFor Oklahoma’s elected officials looking to increase funding for education, the sensible solution can be found right under our feet. By doing away with what has become an increasingly unnecessary and unaffordable tax break, every school district and every school child in Oklahoma would benefit

A new set of fact sheets released today by Together Oklahoma, based on data from OK Policy, shows how much additional funding each school district in Oklahoma could receive if the increasingly costly and unjustified tax break for horizontal drilling was eliminated and the money was used instead to boost public education. (more…)

Filling the Budget Hole: Options for a Balanced Approach

Despite a drop in revenue certified as available for next year’s budget, a new report from Oklahoma Policy Institute shows that budget cuts are not inevitable. Lawmakers have numerous feasible revenue options that they can use to fill the budget hole.

Appropriations-08-15-CPIadjustedThe report, “Filling the Budget Hole: Options for a Balanced Approach” lays out seven options that state policymakers should consider as part of budget discussions this session:

  • Curbing the tax break for horizontal oil and gas production
  • Eliminating the “double deduction” of state income taxes
  • Adopting combined corporate reporting
  • Enhancing tax collection from online sales
  • Tapping the Rainy Day Fund
  • Maintaining transportation funding at current levels
  • Accepting federal funds to expand health coverage

Click here for the full-length brief

Click here for the 2-page Executive Summary

Click here for the blog post (with links to more detailed discussion of each revenue option)

Click here for the press release