Not even a pandemic and thousands of statewide power outages can keep Oklahomans from voting. In fact, this year marked the highest voter participation nationwide despite the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19.
Regardless of any baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, the election is over. This is especially true locally, where the sputtering blue geyser that emerged from the 2018 races was harshly plugged. Though it is reasonable to consider these results as a return to the tendencies that have rooted Oklahoma at the dead, very red center of the Bible Belt, local elections were more contested than the raw results would suggest.
National races also witnessed what could largely be seen as a series of decisive victories for republicans, as GOP candidates narrowed the majority democrats held in the house while simultaneously holding their senatorial ground. These victories, of course, are bookended by one critical exception.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden defeated the incumbent Donald Trump in a race so close it was not confidently called by the Associated Press until Saturday morning. Given day-of and in-person votes are traditionally counted first, Trump established an immediate and sizable lead as he encouraged his base to vote in-person to mitigated supposed vote-by-mail fraud. There is no meaningful historical precedent for mail-in voting fraud, as virtually every state that allows absentee ballots (including Oklahoma) require notarization or a photocopy of a state-issued I.D. Still, the concern over absentee ballots spurred many republican voters to participate dangerously in-person.
As mail-in votes were counted in key battleground states such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, Biden eventually established a clear lead. Biden’s victory may be less attributed to his own campaign’s ability to energize voters, and more so the incumbent’s tendency to alienate more moderate republicans, such as those residing in the late senator John McCain’s home state of Arizona. The red wall that rose in 2016 was again rattled in Georgia, where 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams led a charge of first-time voters to participate. This came in the wake of her campaign that was hindered by actual voter suppression against predominantly-black communities. Abrams will likely continue to be a necessary force of progress in the years to come.
Biden’s victory is historic not in his rare win over a sitting president, but instead the election of his vice-president, Kamala Harris. Harris is the first woman to hold the office and is the first person of Asian-American descent to do so as well. Though she is the first to do so she is not, as she said in her victory speech Saturday evening, “the last.” Harris’s victory could elevate the careers of many other prominent, democratic women including the aforementioned Abrams and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Trump has yet to formally concede the election, and there is a growing doubt that he actually will. As of now, Trump has continued to push the narrative of a “stolen election” due to illegitimate ballots. Trump’s legal team has filed lawsuits across several closely-contested states, but without any substantial evidence of fraud, most were dismissed with prejudice. Perhaps an unintended consequence of the president’s claims is that they inadvertently cast doubt on the Republican victories, as mail-in ballots that resulted in those results would reasonably have to be questioned as well. Additionally, when the legitimacy of an election is called into question, it rarely results in anything but widespread violence. These early seeds of doubt possess the potential to sprout into something far worse for the nation as a whole.
Incumbent Todd Hiett defeated libertarian Todd Hagopian in a landslide. It is unfortunately telling of Oklahoma’s infrastructure that Hiett’s reelection coincides with one of the largest power outages in recent memory. Hiett is expected to continue his advocacy for the state’s fossil fuels industry, specifically its existence on tribal land.
Incumbent Jim Inhofe defeated democratic challenger Abby Broyles by one of the widest margins in the state. This victory emerges despite what could be considered a mostly useless incumbency at best, and a destructive term at best. Given Inhofe will be 92-years-old by the time his new term concludes, there is a chance this could be his last.
Broyle’s campaign was powerful, but it may have leaned too much on criticism of Inhofe, many of which fell on deaf ears to traditionally straight-ticket voters. It is harsh to fault Broyles for identifying the incumbent’s inadequacies, though in the absence of a debate, this strategy likely did little to persuade republican voters. However, Broyles did well to explain as is, Oklahoma’s primary industry is unsustainable. This is, hopefully, far from the end of Broyle’s career, as her focus on agriculture could ensure the state’s long-term health. Afterall, an Inhofe-sized vacancy may be closer than one would expect.
In an upset, democratic incumbent Kendra Horn was defeated by republican challenger Stephanie Bice. This race was one the most watched nationally, as Horn only won her seat from GOP control in 2018. This victory adds to the five seats republicans are projected to win as a result of this election. This seemed almost inevitable, as Horn’s previous victory was secured by one of the narrowest margins, forcing republican strategists to take aim at her incumbency.
Bice’s campaign was leveraged most by her support of Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry and the fear Horn would parrot Nancy Pelosi. Though Horn’s voting record indicates that she does support the oil and gas industry, such as her noted opposition to fracking bans, the rest of her track record does parallel centrist, democratic alignments. Horn’s campaign cited the need for additional federal aid and continued support for the state’s educators. Bice will, presumably, will act in line with the expectations of Governor Kevin Stitt.
State Representative, District 87
Democratic incumbent Collin Walke was re-elected in a decisive victory over republican challenger Valerie Walker. Walke ran unopposed in 2018, posing the question of whether or not his support would hold when faced with an opponent. Walke cited his track record of authoring several implemented policies, most of which related to courtroom staff and legal issues reflective of his career as a litigation attorney, as the primary reasons for his victory. Moving forward, Walke is expected to tackle meaningful criminal justice reform, as his major contributions on that front have yet to be seen. Unlike many of his republican colleagues, Walke’s acknowledgment of Oklahoma’s systemic incarceration problems may be, at the very least, a step in the right direction.
Republican David Hooten defeated democratic newcomer Christina Chicoraske. Though the race was closer than anticipated, Hooten still secured approximately 60% of the vote. During his campaign, Hooten promised to continue modernizing the clerk’s office while protecting conservative values.
Not unlike Abby Broyles, Chicoraske built her platform on accountability and transparency within the clerk’s office. Given her continued role as the city’s Water Conservation Coordinator, Chicoraske is expected to continue championing civic causes.
Republican Tommie Johnson III defeated democrat Wayland Cubit in a close race. Regardless of victor, this election yielded an historic first for Oklahoma county: A black sheriff. Though openly conservative, Johnson has expressed a need to rejuvenate the sheriff’s office. Johnson feels the office needs to evolve into something productive, rather than the “anchor” that it has been for several decades.
In a year where tensions between the community and police have been at an all-time high, Johnson notably does not acknowledge systemic racism within the police force. It can be difficult to believe in meaningful reform when one of the most pertinent and harmful aspects of the police is disregarded.
County Court Clerk
Republican incumbent Rick Warren defeated democratic challenger Charles De Coune. Notably, almost all in-person votes cast on Tuesday favored Warren, leading to his 57% victory. While there is some indication that Warren’s tenure may have ended due to what many consider his recent misuse of CAREs Act funding, opting to send $40 million in aid to state prisons, most voters did not consider this a point of concern.
The implication of Warren’s reelection means the clerk will make more decisions regarding aid that is almost certain under the first year of Biden’s presidency. The hopes this funding will be used for Oklahomans in need, especially at the height of the state’s COVID infections, are extremely dim.
All eight of the supreme court justices and judges up for retention secured the votes needed to maintain their respective offices. Matthew John Kane IV, the most recent conservative justice appointed by Governor Stitt in 2019, notably retained. These results reaffirm the notion that very few judges lose their position outside of retirement or resignation.
With the exception of Tom Colbert, Oklahoma supreme court will remain predominantly conservative. Though criminal justice reform is necessary for the state, judiciary backing is unlikely.
State Question No. 805
Designed to eliminate the sentence enhancement for non-violent felony convictions, this state question failed to pass. Those against the question suggested that eliminating sentence enhancement would encourage criminals to repeat their crimes due to a lack of meaningful punishment. They further suggested in Oklahoma, several forms of domestic abuse and sexual assault are not considered “violent,” and would thus circumvent sentence enhancement. However, there is no clear indication that such repeat offenders wouldn’t suffer a more severe, subsequent sentence depending on the severity of their crime. This question was not inherently retroactive, so already incarcerated individuals would have still just as difficult a path as they do now for shortening their enhanced sentences.
Unfortunately, the continued use of sentence enhancement will likely only increase Oklahoma’s bloated prison population. This vote seems to echo the sentiment that as a whole, criminal rehabilitation is not a priority for most of the state. As other failed attempts at mass incarceration have shown, locking up an individual indefinitely does not eliminate crime, but instead compounds it.
State Question No. 814
Oklahomans voted “no” in response to this state question as well. The less impactful of the two, 814 sought to reduce funding sent to the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) and instead channel that funding into Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. One reason this question likely failed to pass was that the specific use of this funding surplus was never clear, whereas the applicable uses for the funding with the TSET are more or less explicit. Additionally, this funding was not expected to fully cover the state’s anticipated medicaid expansion, likely funding less than half of the resources needed for Medicaid’s target growth of 10%.
There was a rising concern that this funding could have been used for something other than Medicaid expansion. Though this concern has been addressed ad nauseum by legislators, voters did not appear to be swayed. However, if Medicaid is not successfully funded by some means, this can severely offset other sectors, most notably education.
Propositions Modifications to the State Charter
All nine of the propositions present on the ballot were passed, yielding several necessary updates to Oklahoma City’s charter. Among them includes Proposition 7, which changes the term “councilman” within the charter to “council member” or “councilor.” Though seemingly insignificant, this revision is crucial for women and non-gender-conforming individuals seeking to participate in local politics.
Among the measures passed was also Proposition 5, which will expedite the mayor and councilors’ ability to provide feedback to the City Manager about city employees. This modification will, ideally, elevate effective personnel while disciplining lame ducks. This perhaps goes hand in hand with the final measure passed, Proposition 9, that rephrases the charter to prohibit potentially exploitative transactions.
It should not be a surprise Oklahoma as a whole voted the way it had, though the 2016 and 2018 elections led some to believe the metropolitan areas would remain blue. However, it was projected as quickly as Wednesday morning that any democratic rumblings in the state have been muffled. However, GOP strategists would be wise to continue to monitor District 5, as Bice’s incumbency is far from guaranteed. Fresh faces in the state’s senatorial race are almost certain in the next decade, provided Inhofe does not run as a centenarian.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is, despite a myriad of natural disasters, democracy is still alive. Still, the comments of the outgoing president negate much of the optimism brought by this year’s historic voter turnout. Many have rightfully questioned the relevance of the electoral college, as it often attributes more value to geography rather than an individual voter. Yet, when the process of voting as a whole is doubted without cause, there are few paths that do not end in violence.