Oklahomans turn out for first day of early voting
Charles Tate typically votes with his wife on Election Day.
He likes to bring his children, ages 3 and 5, so the kids can learn about the civic process.
But Tate won't be able to make it to the polls Tuesday, so he took advantage of early voting Thursday morning. He stopped by the Oklahoma County Election Board office on his way to work, and was in and out in about five minutes.
"It was very easy," said Tate, 38, an electrical engineer who lives in Oklahoma City. "I'll probably do this more often. … It's a lot easier than trying to corral the kids and wife and standing in line."
Tate was among 1,596 voters who had cast ballots at the Oklahoma County Election Board as of shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday. He encouraged people to exercise their right to vote.
"For those people who don't want to really get into that political realm, this is your voice," he said.
Statewide, at least 14,384 Oklahomans had cast ballots as of 5 p.m. Thursday during the first day of in-person early voting, making choices on medical marijuana and each party's candidates for office. Not all counties record their votes in real time, so the actual total at that time might have been significantly higher.
"That's a very good pace," said Bryan Dean, public information officer for the state Election Board. "If that pace holds up, both Republicans and Democrats will be over what they were four years ago."
Early voting continues through Saturday. Registered voters can visit their county election board office from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to cast in-person absentee ballots.
On Election Day, which is Tuesday, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Oklahoma County Election Board Secretary Doug Sanderson said it's hard to say what voter turnout will be like this election.
"There are so many factors that determine turnout that for this one I'm not really going to try to venture a guess," he said.
Many Oklahomans have been taking advantage of the opportunity to vote by mail.
The Oklahoma County Election Board sent out 13,198 mail-in ballots. As of Thursday morning, they had received about 5,000 back. Those ballots must be received by the county election board before 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Four years ago, during the primary election on June 24, 2014, the Oklahoma County Election Board sent out 6,929 mail-in ballots, Sanderson said. During that election, 2,405 Oklahoma County voters participated in the three-day in-person early voting period.
"It's hard to say whether we'll meet that or exceed it," he said.
Statewide, there were 8,889 mail votes in the Republican primary in 2014, Dean said. As of Thursday afternoon, 10,030 had been returned. For Democrats, there were 4,431 mail ballots returned in 2014. As of Thursday afternoon, 7,886 had been returned, he said.
Many of the voters who cycled in and out of the Oklahoma County Election Board office Thursday morning had strong opinions about State Question 788, which if adopted would create a system for medical marijuana in Oklahoma.
Jason Wilson, 31, of Oklahoma City, sported a gray T-shirt that displayed his support for the measure.
"I'm here to legalize medical cannabis in Oklahoma," he said.
Wilson said he used to suffer from horrible seizures caused by epilepsy. Medications didn't work for him, so he tried cannabis.
"It saved my life," he said.
Priscilla Fuller, 77, of Oklahoma City, works at a polling site on Election Day, so she cast her ballot early on Thursday. Fuller also supported State Question 788.
"I feel like it can help a lot of people here on opioids," she said. "They're so dangerous … and this, I don't think, is as bad."
Other voters had different opinions.
Lon Critchfield, a retired bank executive from Edmond, said he is "very much against" the marijuana state question. He and his wife lived in Colorado, where recreational use of marijuana was legalized.
"It led to recreational marijuana, which I'm convinced leads to more serious addictions," he said.
He voted with his wife on Thursday because they weren't sure if they'd be able to make it to the polls Tuesday.
Critchfield noted the negative rhetoric and "very smearing" remarks between Attorney General Mike Hunter and one of his opponents, Gentner Drummond.
He said he had a hard time deciding in the governor's race, but he voted for Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt because "we need some outsider to come in and clean the swamp."
"I am basically against career politicians," Critchfield said.
Linda Hibbs, a semi-retired educator, has been volunteering with a number of campaigns, knocking on doors, putting up signs and making phone calls.
Hibbs said she was not really politically involved until after the presidential election. She said she felt powerless, so she got involved to try to make a difference. She spent a lot of time at the Capitol this year, including during the teacher walkout.
Thursday morning, she stood on the curb with a sign. When she went home, she planned to make more phone calls.
When she asked people about issues while knocking on doors, most people mentioned education, Hibbs said.
"It's on everyone's mind," she said. "People recognize that it's so critical to everything in this state."