The Nov. 4 General Election ballot turned into a two-page affair mostly due to the large number of judicial races and judicial retention questions up for consideration by voters.
While many pundits and others have wrung their hands since the election about historically low voter turnout, few have offered any possible solutions. We’re not sure we have the cure for low voter turnout, but we would like to propose changes to Oklahoma’s primary election setup to make it more fair to those outside the two-party system.
In Edmond, Republicans dominate the voter registration rolls, but a growing number of Independents are registered here as well. Every primary election automatically leaves Independent voters without any say in the process and oftentimes, Democrats are left out too.
Far too often, local elections are decided by an election in which almost half of registered voters are precluded from casting a ballot. For example, the re-election campaign for Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, this year was decided on the primary ballot. He had only one Republican challenger and the primary election decided who the representative would be for the next two years without Democrats or Independents having any say in who represents them in House District 31.
While we supported Murphey in his race, it seems that Oklahoma lawmakers have the opportunity to address situations like this in a way that could increase voter turnout.
Our proposal is to consider changing the election system to allow only a two-person race in which both candidates are from the same party to be automatically moved to the General Election ballot. That way all voters have a chance to cast their ballot for who should represent them. If there are three or more candidates on the ballot for a district, leave it to the primary system to allow the candidates’ party to nominate their top-two votegetters. Then those two candidates should move to the General Election ballot for all voters to get a chance to make their choice.
Of even greater concern to this Editorial Board is the fact that our state puts district judges in the position of having to campaign and take campaign contributions in order to keep their jobs. It’s not rocket science to figure out that the main people funding judicial campaigns are lawyers who have interests before the courts. While we have a lot of faith in many of our judges, the fact that the state puts them in the position of any questionable ethics is just not necessary.
There’s already a strong review process that thoroughly vets judicial candidates when they are appointed. There’s also a process in place to remove corrupt judges from office if necessary.
It’s in Oklahomans’ best interests to have judges who are making decisions based upon the law and only upon the law. We believe moving all judicial races to a retention ballot only is an appropriate check and balance against judges who are performing poorly and need to be removed from office. And it allows the judges who are doing a great job to continue focusing on the work of justice without having to spend thousands of dollars trying to educate voters and convince them they are worthy of staying on the bench. It’s an unnecessary distraction for most of our local judges who are vastly uncomfortable with the responsibility of a political campaign for a job that requires them to be fair and impartial.