Thomas Jefferson once said: “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” Oklahoma’s participation rate in recent elections is the lowest in the nation. That’s right – 50th out of 50.
Our legislature is not accepting defeat on this issue. In 2021, Oklahoma was one of a handful of states to expand access. With bipartisan support, legislators passed HB 2663, adding an extra early-voting day for general elections. This is by no means a magic solution, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Many factors can stifle voter participation. Recently, the integrity of election results has been called into question, and Oklahoma Sen. James Leewright is concerned about this perception.
“Voters need to be confident in our election process,” he says. “Voters should feel that their vote will count and in Oklahoma, it absolutely does.”
Complacency and resignation can also limit turnout. Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt reminds voters that change is possible.
“There are no simple solutions to complex problems,” he says, citing transparency as fundamental to making progress. “There are times when citizen engagement is beautiful,” he mentions when discussing MAPS 4, OKC’s recently approved revitalization plan. “We sought citizen input online, all along the way, up through the city council process.” This transparency paved the way for a record-setting 71.7% approval of the initiative.
Former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor affirms this belief.
“The most important thing is to authentically listen, to provide context and information to citizens,” she says. “Be ready to not only listen but be willing to change your mind based on what you hear.”
Some think you should be an informed expert to contribute to a conversation, but Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell encourages all citizens to engage, whatever their qualifications.
“You don’t have to have a formal education on an issue or know all the statistics to have an opinion worth sharing,” he says. “When we all come together to discuss solutions, the solutions are better.”
For citizens who want to be better informed, the online resource VoteSmart (votesmart.org) is a non-partisan tool for learning about candidates as well as important propositions. VoteSmart’s founder, Adelaide Kimball, explained the safeguards used to minimize bias.
“In the early 1990s, our founding board included politicians from both ends of the spectrum, including presidents Carter and Ford. We also refused contributions from special interest groups, limiting our funding to small individual donors and foundations.”
Voters can also learn about campaign financing at OpenSecrets.org or FollowTheMoney.org.
Perhaps the most impactful way to get involved is to actually run for office.
“There are so many avenues to serve and positions that qualified Oklahomans should consider running for but don’t,” says Pinnell. “One commonly overlooked avenue to serve is on your local school board. The more that run for office, the better our state will be.”
How to Contact Elected Officials (in their own words):
The following methods are listed in order of effectiveness as expressed by elected officials.
Phone or Email:
“If emailing, mention ‘Constituent from [City Name]’ in the subject line.” – Sen. James Leewright
Dropping by the office:
“Surprisingly effective…” – Sen. Jo Anna Dossett
Leading with a solution rather than a problem:
“Almost 95% of my ideas came from these types of conversations.” – Mayor GT Bynum
“These apps often don’t allow me to respond to my constituents.” – Sen. James Leewright
Social Media shoutouts:
“No way to know if commenters are Tulsa residents.” – Mayor Bynum
“Can be a platform for negativity and misinformation.” – Mayor David Holt