OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – On election day last year, State Representative Jon Echols was mortified to see a 3.5-hour line to vote in his district, which stretches from the outskirts of the core urban from Oklahoma City to suburban neighborhoods that lead to large tracts of rural land.
A nation like the United States – with “real, free and fair elections,” Echols said – shouldn’t keep people waiting so long to participate in democracy.
“We should all be humbled to have had this,” Echols said.
He may sound like a voting rights advocate or a Democratic politician determined to expand access to the ballot, but Echols is a Republican and the floor majority leader of the GOP-controlled Oklahoma House. What it did after that election day revelation is in stark contrast to what the GOP has done in many other states – Echols helped make voting in deep red Oklahoma slightly easier.
Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, signed legislation this week, it adds a day of in-person advance voting in the state and an extra hour of early voting on Saturday, and it also makes changes to ensure that mail-in ballots are received in time to be accounts. The move comes as voting has become a major issue among Republicans – but the other way around. GOP controlled states from Arkansas at Florida have passed laws making voting more difficult, ranging from adding signature control on postal ballots to limiting the time limit for using drop boxes, and all inspired by the former president donald Trump’s false insistence that he lost his candidacy for re-election for fraud.
In Oklahoma, where Republicans feel little threatened by Democrats, the party recognizes that easier access to the ballot can increase turnout.
While restrictions in Georgia have led Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game, and the Texas bill has sparked protests on the streets and from big companies like American Airlines, Oklahoma’s modest changes have sparked little controversy. They came to a state concerned about its still low turnout – only 55% of the eligible population voted in last year’s presidential election, the lowest in the country, according to ElectProject.org, which tracks the rate. participation since the founding of the country. Nationally, more than two-thirds of voters voted.
The entire Oklahoma delegation to the United States House – all Republicans – heard Trump’s appeal regarding bogus voter fraud and voted against certification of the electoral college votes on Jan.6, and two dozen lawmakers Republicans urged them in a letter to do so. But the bill to expand early voting crossed the House and Senate with just a handful of opposing votes.
Chad Alexander, GOP strategist and former president of the Oklahoma Republican Party, said he believed part of the reason the measure met little opposition was that an extra day of early voting would slow down probably not Republican dominance in the Deep Red State. .
“We haven’t had a Democrat wear a single county in a presidential race in five election cycles,” Alexander said.
“Oklahoma is very red, and I don’t think this change is disproportionately affecting either party,” he said.
This contrasts with other states where Republicans pushed to change election laws: political battlegrounds like Florida; States where the GOP fears its grip will slip, such as Arizona and Georgia; or even places where the party is in full swing but still threatened by the occasional wins across the aisle, like Montana. In several of those states, the changes disproportionately hamper Democratic voters, such as Montana students, who can no longer use campus credentials as valid voting identification.
Oklahoma has long stood out as a place with restrictive voting laws.
Even with an extra day for Oklahomans to vote in person and by mail, Oklahoma’s 4.5 days of early voting are among the rarest in the country. According to National Conference of State Legislatures, early voting periods across the country range from four to 45 days, with an average length of 19 days.
Oklahoma Election Council Secretary Paul Ziriax said the extra day would be a convenience for voters, but he is skeptical that it will have a dramatic effect on turnout in Oklahoma.
“In general, I think if you look at states across the country where the turnout is higher, I personally think it has a lot less to do with things like how many days of early voting states have. and has a lot more to do with the amount. money that political parties and candidates spend on exit-voting programs, ”Ziriax said.
Pat McFerron, a Republican pollster and strategist, said adding a first day of voting would likely also push back criticism of Oklahoma’s laws, which include a requirement for voter identification and ballots by notarized correspondence.
“I would actually say the Republican supporters I spoke to aren’t in love with this move,” McFerron said, “especially if you consider that generally our locations that are open early tend to really benefit Democratic candidates.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s openly pro-Republican at all,” he added.
House Minority Representative Emily Virgin, a Democrat from the college town of Norman, said while she is pleased that the number of voting days is increasing, there is still a long way to go to make the vote bigger. accessible to Oklahomans.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s a very small step,” Virgin said. “It’s pretty hard to vote in Oklahoma, compared to other states. We need to do a lot more in terms of increasing voters.
Riccardi reported from Denver.