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Capitol Insider: Heading To The Polls In 2020


With less than two weeks to go before the 2020 Oklahoma Primary Election, KGOU's Dick Pryor and political science expert, Dr. Keith Gaddie, professor of journalism and architecture at the University of Oklahoma, discuss what to expect on election day. This Capitol Insider segment is part of the Oklahoma Engaged election project, a collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU public radio stations, which is made possible by major funding from the Inasmuch Foundation and additional support from Oklahoma Humanities. 


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with University of Oklahoma professor of journalism and architecture, Keith Gaddie. Hello, Keith.

Keith Gaddie: Hey, Dick. How are you today?

Dick Pryor: Very well, thank you. The statewide Oklahoma primary election is coming up on June 30th, as you know. State Question 802, which would put Medicaid expansion in the state constitution, is on the ballot and generating considerable interest. A couple of years ago, the medical marijuana question was on the primary ballot and it drove a lot of turnout. Do you see that happening this year with Medicaid expansion?

Keith Gaddie: Yes. Turnout should be driven by Medicaid expansion, and it should also be driven by the broader environment. But with the Medicaid expansion question, what we're seeing going on is we have a policy issue, much like with medical marijuana, where the public wanted action. The legislature wasn't taking action. So, the public acts on their legislative authority through initiative and referendum. We should see high turnout. And every indicator I've got from talking to the field of forces that tracks public opinion says this proposition’s in a strong position to pass.

Dick Pryor: Do you see this Medicaid expansion vote on the state question affecting other primary races for legislature and Congress, in particular?

Keith Gaddie: That's a really good question. If we look at turnout around the country in other primaries, turnout has been exceptionally high. Presumably, the turnout will be higher on the Democratic side, where there are fewer races of consequence simply because that's the electorate that's going to turn out to support this question.

Dick Pryor: Absentee mail-in and in-person absentee balloting, early voting, is expected to be larger this year due to COVID-19. Other states like Wisconsin and Georgia have had problems with their in-person voting. Is Oklahoma going to be different?

Keith Gaddie: Oklahoma should be different for several reasons. One is that Georgia's in-person voting problem arose due to the nature of their voting machines. It's a touch screen machine that produces a ballot that then gets scanned into another machine. In Oklahoma, we hand you a paper ballot. You fill it out and then you scan it. That means we can move people through more quickly. The second thing is in Oklahoma, we don't have the same problem of shutting down large numbers of polling places, at least not at present. And if we set up our polling places in a manner that we can quickly move people through, set up well-spaced voting kiosks, maybe even help people vote outdoors in the fresh air for their safety. We can ensure a safe, fast voting experience for an Oklahoma voter.

Dick Pryor: The procedures might even change by November, the general election. How could voter participation during this period of time and maybe well into the future be made easier?

Keith Gaddie: Well, there are a bunch of things we can do to make voting easier while protecting the integrity of the vote. Expanded early voting periods to allow people to vote. If we send everybody an absentee ballot or an absentee ballot request, you could show up at a voting center, present your ID so people know who you are when you vote, drop off your ballot. Vote in a long period, say, 28 days before an election as some states do. We could go to mail- in voting, as well. You simply mail the ballot back in. No excuse absentee voting without having to go to a notary. There are a lot of ways we can make it easier if we want to do so. The thing is, this legislature for several years has seen fit to attempt to make voting a little more difficult rather than a little more easy.

Dick Pryor: Keith, under the conditions that we see right now- a pandemic, high unemployment, economic distress, social unrest and divisive politics – what do you see as the mood of the electorate right now?

Keith Gaddie: Well, the electorate is in a really bad mood when it comes to leadership. Nationally, 70 percent of the public thinks that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Fifty-five percent of the public lays the blame for things getting worse at the feet of the current president. There's a lot of frustration out there on a lot of different fronts. And I guess, you know, Dick, honestly though, as much as the public's in a bad mood it's still very civil. I think they still see elections and policymaking as the course to solution. And if we look at the efforts of protests around this country, it's moved beyond protest to engaging institutions, try and change the way things are done. We see that in areas such as attempting to reform police spending and refocus policing. So, the mood is bad, but the mood is still civil. But I think it's going to motivate record turnout in November.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Keith.

Keith Gaddie: Pleasure to be here.

Dick Pryor: We appreciate your time. That’s Keith Gaddie, professor of journalism and architecture at OU. And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews. Until next time, I’m Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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