Recently on Okie Funk, I’ve lamented the dearth of serious Democratic candidates so far for major statewide offices in the 2014 election.
It’s shaping up to be another Republican sweep in 2014, except perhaps for the state Schools Superintendent race, which has drawn some solid Democratic interest.
So here’s an idea getting bandied about among some progressives: What if state Democrats opened up their primary and runoff elections to voters registered as Independents over the next two years?
Think that can’t happen? Well, I basically thought that, too, until someone brought to my attention a little-discussed or known statue in Oklahoma law that allows this to happen in odd-numbered years. Here’s the law:
The state chairman of the party shall, between November 1 and 30 of every oddnumbered year, notify the Secretary of the State Election Board as to whether or not the party intends to permit registered voters designated as Independents to vote in a Primary Election or Runoff Primary Election of the party. If the state chairman notifies the Secretary of the State Election Board of the party’s intention to so permit, registered voters designated as Independents shall be permitted to vote in any Primary Election or Runoff Primary Election of the party held in the following two (2) calendar years. If the state chairman of one party notifies the Secretary of the State Election Board of the party’s intent to so permit, the notification period specified in this paragraph shall be extended to December 15 for the state chairman of any other party to so notify or to change prior notification. A registered voter designated as Independent shall not be permitted to vote in a Primary Election or Runoff Primary Election of more than one party.
According to the law, all it takes is for the chairpersons of the Oklahoma Democratic Party or Oklahoma Republican Party to make this happen. If one party does allow Independents to vote in their elections, then the other party will be allowed the chance to do so as well. Independents could only vote in one party’s primary and runoff elections.
What Democrats could gain from such a move is to show Independent voters that they endorse a big-tent philosophy, which allows everyone to participate fully in elections. It also has the potential to create more votes for Democratic candidates in the general election as Independents get vested in certain candidates for whom they voted in the primary election.
Perhaps, most important, what else can Democrats do at this point to win statewide offices? This is an action the party could take to stir things up. If it adds up to nothing significant, then what have they lost? It’s only for two years, anyway. In 2015, the party could go back to the old system.
It would also force the Republican Party to consider doing the same thing. If the GOP did open up their primary elections to Independents, it might put pressure on well-funded incumbent candidates as their challengers sought out these new votes.
Of course, the downside to all this is that, at least theoretically, Independent votes could be used to sabotage the strongest candidates from each party in the primary, and that could include Democratic candidates. I’m unsure how that could be organized among a group of people that like to be known as independent, but non-statewide election races could conceivably be affected. The issue is whether the person elected in the primary would truly represent the views of the particular party, whatever they might be, especially when it comes to Democrats here.
Here’s some information about open primaries in the United States that outlines the constitutional arguments and other issues.
Opening their primary and runoff elections to Independents is at least an idea for Democrats. I think it deserves some discussion given the GOP dominance in the state right now, and we’re getting close to November when a decision would have to be made.
According to the Oklahoma Election Board, there are 962,072 registered Democrats, 897,663 registered Republicans and 256,450 registered Independents. That comes to around 2.1 million voters. Some political pundits speculate that Republicans will eventually surpass Democrats in voter registration and that Independent registrations will continue to grow, but that could change.