Ward 7 special runoff election is a lesson in voter engagement in Oklahoma City
The Nov. 6 special election in Ward 7 shows why scheduling regular municipal elections at the same time as general elections could increase engagement in city government.
Regular council and mayoral elections are held in late winter and early spring, when none of the highest-profile offices — president, governor, senator — are on the ballot.
Weather often is miserable and turnout invariably is low.
As a result, few voters cast ballots on races involving issues closest to their homes and neighborhoods.
That changed Nov. 6, when 23,545 votes were cast in the runoff between Kirk Pankratz and Nikki Nice for the Ward 7 seat on the Oklahoma City Council.
Nice won with 16,907 votes, or 71.8 percent of the total.
Longtime observers say it is a virtual certainty no council member has ever drawn so many votes.
In fact, the loser tripled the vote totals of several recent city council winners.
Turnout was 54.3 percent.
Contrast that with last February's mayoral primary, when David Holt won office in an election that drew 8.4 percent of registered voters citywide.
The September 2017 bond and sales tax election, when 14.3 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, looked like a standard-setter for citizen engagement by comparison.
The Ward 7 special primary, held Aug. 28, and runoff were called after former Councilman John A. Pettis Jr. resigned.
Municipal elections return to their usual schedule and predictably low turnout this winter.
Filing for council seats in Wards 2, 5, 6 and 8 is Dec. 3-5. The primary is Feb. 12.