Early voting begins in Oklahoma, as state prepares to make history

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 30-Oct-2010

As early voting continued in Oklahoma County, turnout appeared moderate through Saturday morning.

There was no line to get into the county election board located at 4021 N. Lincoln Blvd. in Oklahoma City. However, the steady stream of voters coming and going at the board’s offices resulted in a room roughly two-thirds full of voters and poll workers.

On Lincoln Boulevard itself, hundreds of campaign signs for both candidates in parties stretched north and south in the median and along both sides of the street.

The George Krumme Building, home of the Democratic state headquarters, was awash in signs for statewide candidates. On the other side of the street, large signs in key statewide races were in the front yard of the Dewey Bartlett Center, the Republican headquarters.

Volunteers for several campaigns waved to passing motorists and incoming vehicles carrying voters to the election board. To bolster turnout, local Democrats had planned a march to the polls from Mount Olive Baptist Church on the east side of Oklahoma City.

On the boulevard, two hopefuls held signs and waved to residents.

Gary Jones, Republican candidate for auditor and inspector, was cheerful as he greeted the vehicles. His signature blue and white campaign trailer touting him as “an auditor you can trust” was nearby.

Jones told CapitolBeatOK he was going to find out “if old-fashioned retail and grass roots politics can beat a lot of negative television advertising.” Jones is challenging appointed incumbent Steve Burrage, the Democratic nominee.

In the company of her husband and a few volunteers, Cindy Truong, a former Oklahoma County prosecutor seeking to become a district judge, smiled and waved at passing voters and motorists. Truong faces Patrick Crawley, another former prosecutor, in Tuesday’s judicial election.

Oklahoma voters are deciding contests for eight non-federal statewide posts, U.S. Senator, five congressional seats, half the state Senate, the state House Representatives, various judicial posts, and a wide range of local county positions. They are also rendering a verdict on 11 state ballot questions.

The election for governor will make history no matter who wins. Once all the votes are counted in the contest between Republican Mary Fallin and Democrat Jari Akins, come  Wednesday morning, a woman will be Oklahoma’s governor-elect.

Walk-in absentee voting began Friday, continues today (Saturday, October 30) until 1 p.m., then on Monday, November 1 from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

In a Saturday interview with CapitolBeatOK, state Election Board Chairman Paul Ziriax predicted relatively high voter turnout. “Turnout is always higher in presidential election years than in gubernatorial election years,” Ziriax said. In 2008, roughly 67% of registered voters made it to the polls in Oklahoma. In the last gubernatorial year (2006), turnout was only 45%.

However, open elections for the chief executive’s post, like those in 2002 and 1994, characteristically yield turnout Ziriax described as “a bit higher.”

Asked how he would detail the phrase, “a bit higher” for this year’s election, Ziriax replied cautiously: “Given the historic nature of this election, and the simple fact of a very competitive race for the governor’s job, we think turnout will be higher than 50%. In short, we expect high turnout for this year’s gubernatorial election.”

While election trends across the nation seem to favor Republicans, in the nine states where partisan data is available for early voting, more Democrats had voted in six states, with Republican early voters holding the edge in three.

Precinct polling places are open Tuesday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters uncertain of where to vote may find their polling place at www.elections.ok.gov.