Political Cartoon by Staff Cartoonist Peter Monden
By Katrina Crumbacher
Editor in Chief
As the March 2 deadline came and went, so did the possibility of eliminating straight-party voting in Oklahoma during the 2023 legislative session.
House Joint Resolution 1022 would have created a state question, which if passed, would have prohibited the State Election Board from printing party affiliation on general election ballots. This method would have eliminated straight-party voting by default. Senate Bill 568, House Bill 2012 and House Bill 2123 each would have eliminated straight-party voting outright.
All of them authored by Democrats, and none of them were heard in committee by the deadline.
Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, said he filed HJR 1022 on behalf of a Libertarian constituent but didn’t know if the measure was going to ever actually see the light of day.
“It’s a roundabout way of eliminating straight-party voting,” he said. “There’s a lot of resistance to it here for people who, frankly, have a vested reason to like to have the party on (the ballot).”
In Oklahoma, straight-party voting is about as popular as not responding to the census.
Nearly 40% of eligible Oklahomans still had not filled out the 2020 census form as the deadline was nearing, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. In 2022, the Oklahoma State Election Board reported more than 40% of ballots were marked “straight party” in the general election.
“Straight-party voting enables voters to be staunchly loyal to party affiliation without knowing why,” said Emily Stacey, Ph.D., professor of political science at Rose State College. “People should do the research and know why they are voting for a particular candidate rather than select a single box at the top of the ballot and vote R or D across all races.”
Some Oklahomans have said they’re afraid voters wouldn’t do the research if party affiliation were to be removed from the ballot.
“If there’s somebody who would vote based on name recognition alone without actually doing any research, they’re already irresponsible voters,” said Will Daugherty, chair of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party. “Those people are probably voting for the R or the D regardless of whether they actually understand the stances of those people.”
Only six states still allow for straight-party voting: Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Since Georgia first abolished straight-party voting in 1994, the popularity of straight-party voting has been in decline.
In the ongoing push for ballot box reform, ranked choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, has risen in popularity nationwide.
Closer to home, Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, filed HJR 1023 at the beginning of session to create the “Oklahoma Rank Choice Voting Act,” but it was also never heard in committee.
“The value of ranked choice voting is that it’s not an all-or-nothing election,” Daugherty said. “Anybody is still welcome to only vote for the one candidate that they would like to vote for, but if they do have a second choice and they’re willing to put that on the ballot, they have that option. Their voice can still be heard and their ballot still counted toward somebody that they support.”
Ranked choice voting is already used statewide in Alaska and Maine and in a multitude of local elections nationwide.
The 2023 legislative session ends in May, but these ballot reforms may not come back around until 2024.