It was Election Day last week in Oklahoma. While I am no longer a registered voter in the city of Lawton, I still feel an attachment and so I logged on to the Oklahoma Election Board’s website last Tuesday evening so I could see how the elections in my old stomping grounds came out. The Proposition is what I would like to talk about.
For those of you who were unaware on Tuesday, voters in Lawton approved a bond measure which, according to the text, will allow the city to perform improvements to roads, bridges, and utilities. That Lawton can use improvements to its infrastructure is not surprising to anyone reading this column. I used to joke that potholes and the heat where the two issues that crossed the political divide in the city. The dollar amount, $60 million dollars, is high but it was around the level that other municipalities passed on Tuesday. It actually pales in comparison to the voters in the Sapulpa Public Schools District that passed a bond issue that was over a quarter of a million dollars.
What was most interesting to me was the margin of victory. The Proposition passed by 41 votes. Now these are unofficial results and so there may be some tweaking on this before things are certified but in an election with 2,391 votes cast the margin of victory was 41! That is 1.7 percent of the vote total. Forty-one is smaller than the typical class size I have for American Government & Politics. That is not the fabled “it all came down to one vote” election but it is about as close as you are likely to see in a race with thousands of votes cast.
I bet that more than 41 people reading this sentence did not vote at all.
If there is one takeaway from this race, it is that whether you were in favor of the proposition or opposed to it the vast majority of people just did not show up. This next bit is going to have some “back of the envelope” math but please bear with me. According to the Oklahoma Election Board, there were 58,642 registered voters in Comanche County at the end of August 2023. The Oklahoma Election Board reports registrations by county so we are going to have to make some assumptions, but if we conservatively estimate that half of the population of Comanche County lives in Lawton, that would give the city 24,321 registered voters. That means that voter turnout among the registered voters was 9.8 percent at its best. That means that over 90 percent of the population of the city did not show up.
That isn’t even counting the percentage of Lawton’s population which never even registered to vote in the first place. Since voter registration is typically calculated among the voting eligible population I would have to assume that the turnout for this race was in the 5-7 percent realm. Forty-one votes compared to the literal tens of thousands of people who could have voted but stayed home is breathtakingly small.
But 41 votes was all it took to make a difference.
Those people who did not vote are going to drive on Lawton’s roads just like the voters are. They are going to help pay the taxes that will pay for the road construction just like the voters are. They are going to get stuck in traffic on Cache Road just like the voters are. The difference is that the people who voted helped to make the decision to make those things happen and the non-voters did not. I keep preaching to the choir on this but it is absolutely true. Local elections are vitally important to your community and to your daily life. We focus so much on big national issues when really our day-to-day lives are impacted so much more heavily on the municipal level.
Please, for your own sake, register to vote. Vote in local elections. You missed your chance to influence this one. Do not let yourself do it again.
David Searcy holds a master’s degree from Oklahoma State University and a PhD in political science from Southern Illinois University.