POSTED ON JUNE 5, 2013:
Few Voices Likely to be Heard
Odd election procedures mean lower turnout
Hopefully, you're reading this before Tuesday, June 11. That's because the 11th is an election day, and most people don't seem to know it. In a recent poll of citizens who said they were extremely likely or very likely to vote in the next election, the question was asked: "Can you tell me when the election for Mayor and County Commissioner will be held?"
Only 34 percent knew it was June 11, 18 percent knew it was sometime in June but were not sure when, and 43 percent had no idea.
Again: almost half of the voters polled had no idea.
Whoever had the bright idea to hold elections in June should be exported to another country. Or at least fired for incompetence.
Not only will this keep voter turnout as low as possible, but it also comes at a time when many people will be out of town and will probably forget or don't know the absentee ballot procedures.
Some who actually know there is an election in June may think that it's not really that important since none of the races are actually being decided then. Some may think, incorrectly, that there will be another chance to vote in November.
Maybe. Maybe not.
In the our first non-partisan election for mayor, the new rule is that if any candidate receives 50 percent of all the votes plus one more, he or she will be declared the next mayor of Tulsa. Though this person will not take office until December, the campaigning and electioneering would be over, and there would be no contest in November. If none of the candidates receives the 50 percent-plus-one, then the top two vote-getters in the June 11 election would face off again in November. And this would mean five more months of campaigning.
To try and stave off nearly half a year more of campaigning, candidates are spending a ridiculous amount of money now in hopes of winning it all this week. That's not very likely to happen with more than one strong contender.
The Tulsa County Commission election to choose a successor for the retiring Fred Perry is still a partisan election. On the 11th, there are four Republicans vying to win the nomination. Because this is a special election to finish the term of Commissioner Perry, there is no run-off election. This means that the Republican who gets the most votes on June 11th, regardless of what that percentage is, will be the GOP nominee. Hypothetically, a candidate could claim victory with only 35 percent of the votes cast.
There is a Democrat candidate but -- realistically and historically -- because County Commission District No. 3 is 87 percent registered Republicans, the winner of the June Republican primary will more than likely become the next county commissioner.
Since there is a Democrat nominee, there will still be a general election. In keeping with the theme of choosing bad times for elections, the county commissioner election is scheduled for August (instead of everyone's favorite election month, which is November), practically guaranteeing low voter turnout.
This whole disjointed and poorly designed election process is somebody's fault, and the citizens should hold them accountable. There is absolutely no good reason why the election dates had to be intentionally set to confuse the voters, discourage voter turnout, and thereby give the advantage to candidates with either the most money or best name recognition.
This isn't the first time that election dates have snuck up on us to promote low turnout. The most recent bond election for Tulsa Public Schools in May saw less than 14,000 people vote for and pass a $38 million bond issue.
All of the candidates are doing what they can to remind voters of Tuesday's election. The media ads and the mailings all mention it. Due to the expected low turnout, we have seen some candidates putting a great deal of resources into the absentee ballot options for voting. And we see a lot more yard signs a lot earlier than usual to remind people that there is an election coming very soon. Hopefully, all of these efforts will help.
To add to this confusion are the terms of office for mayor and county commissioner. Regarding the mayoral term, owing to changes wrought with this non-partisan contest, the person elected mayor this year will only serve a three-year term, as opposed to the usual four-year. This is a one-time occurrence, with the mayoral term returning to four years with the next elected mayor. In the County Commission race, the winner will finish the final year of Commissioner Perry's term, and in 2014 will have to start campaigning again for his own four-year term. That means that this time next year, we will have the same county commissioner election all over again.
One would think, with all of the elections we have in Oklahoma and in Tulsa County, that those in charge of setting elections would have this down pat. One would be wrong.
There should be some very simple yet important guiding principles for elections. These would include having as few elections as possible, holding elections at consistent times of the year, consolidating elections, and encourage rather than discourage voter participation and turnout for all elections.
Sometimes it seems that the easy stuff is the stuff we mess up the most. Voting is too important for it to be made unnecessarily hard for people to know when they can exercise this important right of our citizenship.
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