Oklahoma’s voter turnout numbers are disheartening. Only a little over 50 percent of Oklahomans vote in general elections. For primaries and county elections, the number drops dramatically lower.
Sadly, Oklahoma school board elections often have the lowest turnout, despite the enormous impact school boards have on education spending and quality. By not voting, too many citizens are not engaging in one of the most important decisions affecting our state, counties, schools, businesses and communities. In 2016, Oklahoma schools spent $5,225,013,164.05, and a good amount of that spending was decided by locally elected school board officials.
What’s behind weak voter turnout, especially at a time when everyone seems to have such strong opinions about education? And how do we motivate more Oklahoma citizens to engage in this most fundamental act of democracy? There are some surprisingly easy adjustments we can make to improve voter turnout.
One of the recommendations in the State Chamber Research Foundation’s OK2030 vision plan is to align election dates to better promote voter participation. Insisting on separate election dates for each level of government – state, city, county and school board – makes the process more difficult for voters.
The timing of elections matters too. Simply moving our school board elections to April instead of February could help. Voter turnout is consistently higher for elections held in April, possibly due to improved weather. Plus, most municipal elections are already held in April.
In developing our OK2030 plan last year, we polled the idea of aligning election dates and nearly 72 percent of Oklahomans supported the idea. The result is House Bill 2082, which moves most school board dates from February to April. We applaud the State Election Board for helping to craft this legislation, and we’re pleased to see the Legislature pass this measure.
Streamlining government to increase efficiency is a core principle of our OK2030 plan, and strong voter participation is a fundamental underpinning of our democracy. The State Chamber commends the Legislature for the swift passage of House Bill 2082, and we look forward to seeing it signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.
Column by Fred Morgan, President and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma, published in The Journal Record on April 13, 2018