Weekly Wonk: Oklahoma ranks 10th for poverty | Expanding pregnancy, postpartum care | Capitol Update | Justice reform: Fines & fees

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

Latest poverty, health insurance data show that Oklahoma still has work to do: New data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey released Sept. 15 show that Oklahoma’s poverty rate (15.6 percent) was the nation’s 10th highest, increasing slightly in 2021 when compared to 2019’s pre-pandemic levels (15.2 percent). A closer look at the data reveals significant differences in poverty rates when comparing the categories of race, gender, and disability status. It also shows that more than 1 in 5 Oklahoma children live in poverty. [Carly Putnam / OK Policy]

Statement about recommendations to expand pregnancy coverage, postpartum care: Expanding health care access for pregnant Oklahomans is an important next step to help ensure the health and well-being for our state’s children and families. OK Policy applauds the proposals made by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and recommended by the H.E.L.P Task Force during its Tuesday meeting. [OK Policy]

Interim study discusses parental rights and protecting well-being for endangered children (Capitol Update): An interim study requested by Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole, and Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, was held in the House Judiciary-Civil Committee last week and went in a slightly different direction than I expected. Instead, the study focused on how to improve the system to get parental rights terminated so children will become eligible for a new, permanent home and out-of-state custody. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Criminalizing Poverty: The Consequences of Court Fees in a Randomized Experiment: OK Policy’s Criminal Justice Policy Analyst David Gateley joins the Pulse podcast to look at Oklahoma’s over-reliance on fines and fees and the consequences to our communities, economy, and more. [Pulse Podcast / Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform

Policy Matters: Your Voice is Your Vote: As the countdown continues toward the Nov. 8 general election, it is crucial that all eligible Oklahomans are registered to vote. With this upcoming Tuesday being celebrated as National Voter Registration Day, organizations statewide are holding voter registration drives to ensure more folks can exercise this fundamental right. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Upcoming Opportunities

Save Our Democracy: VOTE! | Sept. 20 online event to highlight Oklahoma’s voter registration activities [Together Oklahoma]

Weekly What’s That

Voter ID Requirements

In 2010, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 746, which established new voter identification requirements. The state question requires voters to present a valid government-issued document that includes their name and picture or a voter identification card issued by their county election board. A person who cannot or does not provide one of those forms of identification may sign a sworn statement and cast a provisional ballot.

SQ 746 was approved with 74.3 percent of the vote and took effect in July 2011. After a lengthy legal challenge, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously upheld Oklahoma’s voter ID law in 2018.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“In a state where we have failed to make significant investments in things like health and where we have particularly bad health outcomes, it’s a really good first step towards better supporting Oklahoma families.” 

– Emma Morris, Health Care and Revenue Policy Analyst, speaking about Tuesday’s recommendation to expand health care for pregnancy and postpartum care [KFOR]  

Editorial of the Week

Tulsa World: Election reforms could aid Oklahoma’s suffering democracy

It’s bad for Oklahoma that nearly 70% of the legislative races have already been decided. Several reasons have led to this lopsided representation, and most are solvable.

This is a flip from November 2018 when about 75% of Oklahoma House and Senate races had a candidate from both parties, according to a story from Oklahoma Watch. That was largely fueled by the spring teacher walkout that motivated more people to run for office and get involved politically.

Then, it went downhill. By 2020, about 60% of legislative seats were uncontested. Now, Oklahoma is considered one of the least competitive states for legislative races, according to data from Ballotpedia. The state had the 10th lowest voter turnout in the 2018 midterm election and the nation’s lowest in the 2020 election.

Oklahoma’s democracy is suffering. Healthy, engaged communities show plenty of candidate options and robust voter turnout. Instead, our system is scaring people away from public service.

Oklahoma must get people civically engaged. That starts with asking why so many smart, capable Oklahomans are avoiding public service and even the ballot box. Studies show that legislators running unopposed are less engaged with their constituents. Also, citizens are more likely to become alienated from processes that don’t provide choices.

Oklahoma’s closed primaries shuts out hundreds of thousands of voters, and straight-party voting gives power to political parties over candidates. Oklahoma is one of only six states with the straight-party option. That is when voters mark a single box next to a political party to trigger selection of candidates only from that party. 

In 2018 midterm election, 40% of Oklahomans voted with the straight-party box. Of those straight-party voters, 64.5% were Republicans, 34% were Democrats and 1.3% were Libertarians. That jumped to 45.5% of all voters in the November 2020 election, breaking down to 71% Republicans, 28% Democrats and 1% Libertarians. It’s an outdated mechanism cynically letting parties choose over making independent choices.

More states are moving to different models of ranked choice elections or variations of open primaries. Results are showing more voter turnout in these races and more success for moderate candidates. That would be a vast improvement over Oklahoma’s current primary season of extremism and division. The polarization avoids discussions on more complex problems and solutions.

At a minimum, lawmakers ought to consider opening elections to all voters when the only candidates in a race are from the same party. That way, the winner would be a more true representative of constituents.

Taxpayers pay for the primaries for political parties, so that seems closer to fair. Republican leadership could make these changes. Democrats had a chance to do that and didn’t, fearing a loss of power. That’s a poor excuse from doing the right things to better our state.

If Oklahomans continue down this road of disinterest and apathy, nothing will improve. It’s up to our lawmakers to makes changes to turn around this insidious apathy.

[Read the full article from the Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 71,160 – Shortage of rental homes affordable and available for extremely low income renters in Oklahoma. More than 1 in 4 renter households in the state are identified as extremely low income, which is a maximum income of $26,200 for a 4-person household. [National Low Income Housing Coalition]
  • 91% – Percentage of low-income Oklahoma families who used their monthly expanded Child Tax Credit funds on basic needs. [CBPP]
  • 44th – Oklahoma’s rank for social and economic factors for women and children (combined) from the 2021 Health of Women and Children Report [America’s Health Rankings] | [Full Report]
  • 55% – Percentage of eligible Oklahoma voters who cast ballots during the 2020 presidential election. Oklahoma’s rate was the lowest in the nation. [Ballotpedia]
  • 15.6% – At 15.6%, Oklahoma had the nation’s 10th highest overall poverty rate in 2021 out of all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. [2021 American Community Survey Data via OK Policy]

What We’re Reading


Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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