While most of the attention in Oklahoma last week focused on the geological earthquake that shook the state and the political earthquake that shook the nation, the state election results got less detailed coverage. Here are a few of our important takeaways from the vote:
Turnout was up
A total of 1,451,056 Oklahomans cast ballots for President, according to data provided by the State Election Board. That’s 132,000 more than the Presidential votes cast in 2012 (1,332,872), a 9.9 percent increase, but almost identical to the numbers in 2008 (1,462,661) and 2004 (1,463,758). Oklahoma saw a big increase in early voting: over 152,000 people took advantage of in-person early voting, compared to a previous high of 114,000 in 2008. The turnout rate of registered voters was 67.3 percent, also up from 2012. We won’t have numbers on the turnout rate for eligible voters — which includes those who are not registered to vote – until the Census Bureau releases data from its voter survey, but it should be up slightly from the 52.4 percent of eligible voters who voted in 2012.
Straight party voting continues to help Republicans
A total of 526,794 voters, or more than one in three, opted for straight party voting, according to Election Board reports. Republicans enjoyed a 138,000 vote advantage over Democrats in straight-party voting and received 61.7 percent of all straight-party votes. By comparison, Republicans account for 53.3 percent of voters who are registered for one of the three recognized parties. Interestingly, straight-party Democratic voters accounted for a larger share of those voting for Hillary Clinton (44 percent) than of Republicans voting for Donald Trump (34 percent) or Libertarians for Gary Johnson (18 percent).
The Republican legislative majority grew again
Republicans gained four seats in the state House and three seats in the Senate, adding to their already sizable majorities in both chambers. When the Legislature meets in February, the Republican advantage will be 75-26 in the House and 42-6 in the Senate. This election again confirmed that outside the metropolitan areas, Democrats are gradually being wiped out. Of ten open seats previously held by Democrats outside Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Democrats retained only one (HD 4 in Tahlequah). Democrats also were unable to win back seats held by Republicans outside the metropolitan centers, even where they still enjoy a large advantage in party registration. For Senate Democrats, this election cycle was truly disastrous — of 25 seats on the ballot, they won just one, and they lost all three open seats previously held by term-limited Democrats (SD 1, SD 9, SD 13). The results in the House were more mixed. Democrats held all the seats where incumbents were running and picked up two open seats, both in Oklahoma City (Collin Walke in HD 87 and Mickey Dollens in HD 93). House Democrats are creating a strong and expanding base in Oklahoma City, where they now have ten seats.
There will be a large freshman class in Oklahoma City
Although no incumbent from either party was defeated last week, the large number of legislators who termed out or chose not to seek re-election, along with three Republican incumbents who lost in the June primaries, ensures a large freshman class of 2018. In total, 45 of 149 legislators will be freshmen. In the House, there will be 32 new legislators — 25 Republicans and 7 Democrats. In the Senate, there will be 13 freshmen (including one who previously served in the House), all Republicans.
There will be even fewer female legislators
Prior to Tuesday, there were 21 women in the Legislature out of 149 Representatives and Senators. Oklahoma’s rate of female legislative representation was second lowest in the nation, behind only Louisiana. The next Legislature will see that number fall to 19, with 13 female Representatives and 6 female Senators. While a large number of female candidates stepped forward to challenge incumbents or vie for open seats, very few were successful. Of the 43-member freshman class, only 5 are women.
Voters showed an independent streak on ballot measures
There were some genuine surprises in the results of the seven state questions. Prior to the election, we noted that since 2004, 35 of 36 state questions placed on the ballot by legislators had been approved by the voters. This year, however, two of the four legislatively-referred ballot measures — SQ 777, the so-called right-to-farm, and SQ 790, striking the constitutional provision used to keep the Ten Commandments monument off the Capitol grounds — were defeated by decisive margins. Both measures had been placed on the ballot with the overwhelming support of Republican legislators. We also noted that citizen-initiated ballot measures typically had a lower success rate. Yet voters rejected the appeals of the state’s District Attorneys and other members of the law enforcement community by supporting SQ 780 and 781, the two citizen-initiated measures that will make all drug possession charges and minor property offenses misdemeanors and direct savings to mental health and substance abuse services. Only in affirming the death penalty (SQ 776), rejecting the sales tax increase for education (SQ 779), and supporting alcohol modernization (SQ 792) did the results conform to what would have been expected based on past ballot measures.
Corrections: This post has been updated to correct errors identifying one of the seats lost by Senate Democrats and the number of freshmen legislators, and to clarify the vote on SQ 780 & 781.