Oklahoma's runoff election requires a majority vote (this election anyway)
Every winning politician loves to claim support from The People. It’s how they make legitimate every decision they will make, from spending tax money to reworking government programs.
But the reality is a lot more complicated.
As we pointed out last week, the next governor of Alaska will probably only have support from about a third of the people. The current president of the United States was elected with 46.1 percent of the vote (while the losing candidate, Hillary Clinton, had 48.2 percent).
Then there is Oklahoma.
To win in Oklahoma, a candidate has to reach 50 percent of the vote in the primary. (It’s one of ten states that require a majority in that election.) But only in the primary. A candidate could get less than 50 percent in November and still be elected. This will probably happen in a not very distant future because there are a growing number of independents and Libertarians. Four years ago four people ran for governor, but the Republican was so popular that majority rule was easy. There was no split vote. But that won’t always be true.
“These runoffs are designed to uphold majority rule, which is good, but they come at a cost. Taxpayers are on the hook for paying for two elections, and voter turnout almost always declines significantly,” wrote Andrew Douglas in the Daily Oklahoman. Douglas is a policy analyst with FairVote. “If history is any indication, then we could see a nearly 30 percent drop in turnout for the runoff elections that will take place 63 days after the primary. FairVote, a nonpartisan electoral reform organization, calculates that in the 15 federal primary runoffs that Oklahoma has held since 1994, turnout has dropped an average of 27.7 percent.”
So fewer people will decide the fate of Oklahoma’s candidates, including four tribal citizens who are running for statewide office or for the Congress. (Another three tribal citizens already qualified for the November ballot).
Ashley Nicole McCray, a Democrat running for the Corporation Commission, missed avoiding a runoff by a few thousand votes. In the first round she crushed three other candidates for the party nomination, winning nearly a hundred thousand votes more than the second place finisher, Blake Cummings. She had 48.79 percent of the vote compared to Cummings 22.17 percent. And in that first primary, more than 370,000 people cast ballots for one of the Democrats.
But on Tuesday the “voice of the people” will likely be much, much smaller.
This is significant because McCray, Absentee Shawnee, has a campaign that many would consider counter-intuitive. She’s running against big oil in an oil state. Her opponent is a Democrat who worked in the oil and gas industry for three decades. And in Oklahoma she’s championing renewable energy. Did we mention, this is in Oklahoma?
She said this post is ideal because it matches her academic background with her community work. She is pursuing a doctorate in science. She recently told a podcast for Our Revolution that too often citizen voices are not heard on pipeline and other energy projects. “I love Oklahoma and I love the land,” she said, adding that the current Corporation Commission are people representing Big Oil.
“Oil and gas is not our major industry in our state,” McCray said. “Agriculture is, actually, number one. We need to break away from the mentality that we need to rely on oil and gas for our economy.” She said her candidacy is about support for renewable energy and that idea could help diversify the state’s economy.
Jason Nichols also won a four-way primary for the Democratic nomination in the second congressional district. Nichols, Cherokee, had 37.86 percent of the vote. Clay Padgett had 24.23 percent, Elijah McIntosh, 19 percent, and Virginia Jenner, 18.87 percent. What’s particularly interesting about this primary is that the eventual winner will face Rep. Markwayne Mullin, also a Cherokee citizen, and the Republican incumbent. Four years ago Mullin won with 70 percent of the vote. But in the primary Mullin had some 60,000 votes and the four Democrats had more than 85,000 votes.
Nichols told the Tulsa World that Mullin is vulnerable. Last year Mullin told a constituent that his taxes, not hers, paid for his salary in Congress. “‘You don’t pay my salary,’ was the final thing for me,” said Nichols. “That is just contrary to everything I believe a public servant should be about.”
Nichols has worked for tribal governments, including serving as information technology director for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee. A recent thread on Twitter had supporters saying why they support Nichols. One said: “I support Jason Nichols because I know he’ll protect tribal sovereignty.” Nichols responded: #TribalSovereignty is of course an issue near and dear to the hearts of so many #OK2 voters. The presence of tribes in Oklahoma is vital to our success - economic and otherwise.”
Amanda Douglas is a candidate who could benefit from the second round of voting. She placed second in the first primary to Tim Gilpin. Douglas is a Cherokee citizen. On Twitter Douglas recently pointed out that Congress is mostly white and male. She tweeted that 77.35 percent of Congress are white men while only 31 percent of Americans are and more than half of those serving in Congress are millionaires compared to 5 percent of the population. “These are the people ‘representing us’ in the federal government,” she said. “THIS IS A PROBLEM.”
Worse yet, “a lot of people are tired of the shouting match, the screaming match in our legislative body right now because no one listens,” Douglas said on Studio Tulsa, a public radio program. She said she is running as a Democrat but wants to put people before party. She said she has many in her circle of family and friends, including her husband, who are Republicans. “I have to live my life, like a lot of Oklahomans do, getting along with people who have different ideals than I.” A skill that could be of use in Congress.
Another candidate getting a second shot because of the runoff is Kevin Stitt, a Cherokee citizen, who is running for governor on the Republican ticket. He’s competing against Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. Stitt told the Enid News that he is running as an outsider from business like Trump. He praised Trump’s tax cuts are “leveling” the playing field for America to compete in the global marketplace. And, as companies move back to the United States, he said Oklahoma is in a prime position to attract that opportunity — with the right kind of leadership.
Oklahoma has never elected a tribal citizen as its governor. (Interesting when you think about the unique history of Indian Territory and the Oklahoma Territory.)
Noton the ballot Tuesdayin this round: Rep. Mullin as well as Rep. Tom Cole won their party nominations without a runoff. As did Anastasia Pittman, who is the Democratic candidate for Oklahoma’s lieutenant governor. However her daughter, Ajay Pittman, is running for a seat in the state House and faces a runoff against Nkem House.
Election liveblog atIndianCountryToday.com
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports
Are you using the new mobile platform? Get Indian Country Today on your phone with apps from The News Maven.