Kimberlee Wilson is an OKUnited intern and senior at Oologah-Talala High School.
Registering to vote in the state of Oklahoma is easier now thanks to an online P.Ortal that serves all Oklahomans. Until recently, a voter registration form had to be physically filled out and mailed to a county or state election board.
It's been reported that despite the surge of people who register to vote in the United States in 2020, voter turnout is still at record lows throughout the country. Our particular part of the country, Oklahoma, had the lowest voter turnout (about 55%) of all the states for the 2020 presidential election. This means that a very small percentage of Oklahomans are deciding the outcomes for 100% of us. A representative democracy is designed to represent the needs and values of all citizens, not a handful.
A major reason Oklahomans don't think their votes count is because closed primaries make it impossible for them to participate in selecting which candidates end up on the ballot for the general elections. The most obvious solution that would optimize the electoral processes and instantly increase the available voter pool is to repeal closed primaries that keep us from being able to make meaningful choices in Oklahoma. In 2022 many candidates for public office in Oklahoma were unopposed, which indicates a lack of interest in voting and civic engagement. Open primaries would put choices in front of all Oklahomans to select candidates that represent us while revitalizing interest in voting.
It's interesting that in 1925 our innovative Oklahoma Legislature passed a form of ranked choice voting, but it was never put into practice. Ironically, our brief and abandoned effort for primary reform was intended to reduce extremism. For too long, almost a hundred years, Oklahomans have been forced into a binary ballot choice that caters to extremism.
We all deserve the opportunity to choose from a variety of candidates that includes people who know how to work together to strengthen our Legislature. Our general election laws allow Oklahomans to vote for candidates of any party, but by then the closed primaries system has ensured a very limited number of candidates chosen by a partisan process marked by voter apathy. The decisions have really already been made. With low voter turnout, candidates succeed by appealing only to a very small population of regular voters.
More voters mean better representation. The "UnmuteOK" campaign launched by Oklahoma United for Progress points out that 94% of Oklahoma elections are decided in the primary, not the general election. Oklahomans of various political affiliations still have shared values and should be permitted to vote accordingly.
Oklahoma already has a secure form of voting, so some form of nonpartisan open primaries would simply create a system proven to make all of our votes meaningful. My message is:
For many young people like me who do not align with one side of political views against another, the current system of closed primaries results in having a small percentage of voters choose who will represent all of us.
Growing up in an immigrant household and knowing many people with resident status who do not have the power to vote motivates me to go into the polls, something I did as soon as I turned 18. I still vote in each election with my family in mind, and I want open primaries for myself and for all Oklahomans so we may vote regularly - not for the party, but for the person.
Yvonne Galvan is an Oklahoma native, a recent University of Oklahoma graduate, and a political researcher who lives and works in Oklahoma City.
If you’ve ever looked at the headlines and thought to yourself, “What the heck is going on?” you’re not alone. I’m right there with you.
Have you thought, said or heard the phrase: “My vote doesn’t matter.” I hear this phrase from all sides of the political spectrum.
Republicans feel as if their votes don’t matter because the current primary system heavily favors their party, so there’s really no reason to participate. Democrats feel as though their votes have no weight at all due to their lack of representation in state government. Independents and Libertarians often share the same sentiment because they have few or no choices.
My friends and I want to be hopeful for our state’s future, but we all feel completely powerless and like no one values us. I’m 17 years old and a senior at Oologah-Talala. Many of my peers accept that their votes don’t make a difference.
In the 2020 election, Oklahoma ranked next to last in the nation in voter turnout, with only Texas lagging, according to an analysis of federal election data. By 2022, Oklahoma had fallen to last place, with only 55% of the eligible population casting a ballot.
Yale University found that it’s vital for young people to vote because voting is habitual. People who vote from the age of 18 are more likely to vote in the future. My generation has lost faith in politics, so they are less likely to vote. Under 25% of eligible voters younger than 30 cast ballots last November.
Why does my generation have such a lackluster view of voting? Independents, the largest growing political group in Oklahoma, are barred from Republican primaries, yet Republicans hold every statewide and congressional seat in our state and a supermajority in the Legislature.
Democrats have voluntarily permitted unaffiliated voters in their primaries, but it’s still not a level playing field for all voters. Regardless of their party affiliation, I want our elected officials to confront issues that young people worry about: education, health care, public safety and the cost of living.
The accomplishments, and lack thereof, have left Oklahoma 46th in the nation for youth well-being as reported by the national Kids Count annual report. This downward trend will continue as long as Oklahoma’s voters neglect the ballot booth. Why? Because our collective apathy disconnects the people from the officials.
How do we restore faith in our political system? Many states have increased voter turnout through primary election reform. An open primary system allows all voters to participate in primary contests, regardless of political affiliation or non-party registration. Six of the highest turnout states in 2022 were states with open primaries. Oklahoma is the only state among our neighbors with a closed primary system.
Voter turnout is a key sign of a healthy democracy.
Open primaries don’t just increase voter turnout. They also have the ability to advance centrist political candidates motivated by topics that concern all aspects of daily life. Moderates or centrists have few chances of appearing on the general election ballot, where all eligible Oklahomans can cast a vote. These results-oriented politicians have potential to help Oklahoma by focusing on commonsense legislation and responding with solutions that improve the quality of life for all of us.
Centrist representatives are more likely to end gridlock in Congress. Brookings found that the presence of centrists in elected bodies creates a 10% decrease in gridlock.
Oklahoma’s growing number of independent or unaffiliated voters, now over 400,000 out of the approximately 2.2 million registered total, demonstrates that gridlock between two major parties is not what our citizens want. We want rational and relatable research, deliberation and solutions to issues impacting all Oklahomans, young and old.
All of these facts are why I volunteer for Oklahoma United for Progress , a nonpartisan organization working to repeal closed primaries to free Oklahomans to vote in all elections.
Oklahoma United is right there with us because it wants what’s best for Oklahoma in a way I haven’t seen in any other organization. Our grassroots efforts connect Oklahomans to the patriotic cause of a better democracy.
I’m channeling my frustration and disappointment into a positive and lasting reform that helps all of us.
All of our electorate deserves to be represented, including my friends and me. When we see higher voter turnout, moderate representation and a decrease in gridlock, we can get to a healthier Oklahoma.
At the end of the day, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or somewhere in between, that’s a future that we can all hope for. I’m a high school senior, and I want open primaries.
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