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Capitol Insider: Previewing General Election Day In Oklahoma

Unprecedented absentee mail-in and in-person voting is occurring in Oklahoma and around the nation leading up to General Election Day, November 3rd. KGOU and its Oklahoma public radio partners are planning comprehensive coverage on election night - both on-air and online. KGOU will broadcast national coverage from NPR beginning at 7:00 p.m. while simultaneously hosting a "second screen experience" online at www.OklahomaEngaged.com. Oklahoma results and expert analysis will be available there for engaged voters via tablet, smart phone and computer. 

The unique online program will feature discussion with Oklahoma political scientists including Dr. Keith Gaddie of the University of Oklahoma. With the hours counting down toward Election Day, he talked about the political landscape in Oklahoma with KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley on Capitol Insider. 


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider and we're talking politics with Election Day almost here. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. We continue our Oklahoma Engaged coverage with OU political scientist Keith Gaddie, professor at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Gibbs College of Architecture. Keith, thanks for joining us.

Keith Gaddie: Pleasure to be here, Dick.

Shawn Ashley: Keith, there's a huge advantage to Republicans in new or changed registrations this year. In Oklahoma, Republicans started the year with a 270,000 voter advantage over Democrats and have only increased that since then by another 100,000 through the first of October. Does this portend an even bigger red wave in Oklahoma? And is that even possible?

Keith Gaddie: It does portend for a very strong performance. The possibility of Republicans picking up seats in the state legislature is exceedingly likely. The only race that's really in question at this point is the congressional district CD-5 race, which is one of those competitive races in the country. But it does portend for the continuation of what has been a long, dark winter for the Democratic Party. Democratic registrants are up mainly in urban areas and suburban areas. Republican registrants are up everywhere. Independent registrations are increasing as much as new Democrats are coming in. But this feeds into a larger thing in Oklahoma, which is we are a notoriously counter-cycle state that when most of the country is headed Republican, we tend to have Democratic blips; when the rest of the country is moving to the left, we tend to pivot to the right. So, as the country appears to be creeping left again this election, having Oklahoma become more Republican isn't surprising.

Dick Pryor: Keith, it is 2020, so traditional rules and norms don't seem to apply. Oklahoma has been a reliable Republican state in the presidential election since 1964, the last time a Democratic presidential candidate won the state's electoral votes. Do you see another 77-county Republican sweep in the presidential race this year?

Keith Gaddie: Well, you know, that's the safe bet for a generation now is to bet on a 77- county sweep and barring unusually strong performance in Oklahoma County arising from get-out-the-vote efforts in the CD-5 race, that probably should be the case again.

Shawn Ashley: We're seeing record numbers of mail-in and early in-person voting this year in Oklahoma and across the nation. Are people just voting differently or should we expect vote totals to really explode this time around?

Keith Gaddie: The answer to both parts of that question is yes. People are voting earlier. You have so many concerns regarding the ability to vote. Concerns over interference with the ability of the postal system to deliver an absentee ballot in time, concerns about the pandemic, in particular, concerns about disenfranchisement efforts in certain states. But what's going on is we have record absentee requests across the nation, but also record return rates.

I was speaking with a friend in Wisconsin on Thursday evening, and over 90 percent of Wisconsin early vote ballots and absentee ballots have been returned. In Texas, the absentee and early vote returns are closing in as of Thursday before election on the 2016 vote total in Texas. This means interestingly enough that on Election Day, lines should be lighter. But a lot of the votes that are coming in when you talk to election officials around the state, it's old voters, it's young voters, it's first time voters. It is a remarkable mix. Briefly, this feeds into a question of who are these voters? Because you think of the profile of most of the slack in the voting system, most of the slack in the voting system is with younger voters, independents and Democrats and persons of color. So, to the extent that we're going to see if we see a very, very high spike in record high turnout, that means you're getting into the electorate that is not looking like the Republican coalition.

Dick Pryor: In Oklahoma, mail-in absentee ballots must be received at the county election board by November 3rd. However, standard yellow affidavit absentee ballots can be hand delivered. But they must be delivered to the county election board by the close of business Monday. With so many rules coming into play this year that maybe no one had ever really thought about before do you expect to see a large number of disqualified ballots in Oklahoma?

Keith Gaddie: I don't know. I would doubt it, because if somebody is waiting until Monday, until after Monday to attempt to cast an absentee ballot in person, the odds are what will happen is they’ll simply be directed to their polling place where they can then vote. If their absentee ballot has not been received by Monday. It will not be indicated on the ballot rolls that are used on Tuesday. So that person could still go and vote in person.

Dick Pryor: If the numbers are so much greater than normal this year what effect does a huge increase in turnout have on polling? Does it break the models?

Keith Gaddie: Yes, yes, it does, because there are a variety of issues at work. One is if people are using a what is called a voting history screen to decide who's voting where, you look at past history and survey those people, you miss the new voters. If you're weighting your survey responses based upon your respondents by group and you don't account sufficiently for the share of new voters that are showing up or low propensity voters showing up in groups, you may also have inaccuracy that will arise. But in order to truly, completely break the polling models, what we'd have to see is record surges in voting by low propensity voters. Okay? And these are mainly lower income voters. These are going to be Hispanic voters, in particular. Asian-American voters are the lowest propensity voters that are in the electorate. So, if we see Hispanic voter surges, this will shift the actual result away from what the polling formula indicates.

Shawn Ashley: How do you handicap the Fifth District congressional race at this late date?

Keith Gaddie: I think what I’m gonna do is I'm going to wait till about 10:15 on Tuesday night when we get a final count. I mean, take a good, hard look at it and then we'll see who has the most. This is an incredibly high-profile race between a highly effective and talented incumbent in Kendra Horn and a highly effective and talented challenger in the form of State Senator Stephanie Bice. And in this kind of race, in this kind of environment, it's all about mobilization. You really can't persuade anybody to change your mind at this point. It's about turning out the vote that's going to tend towards those candidates. And CD-5, the Oklahoma County parts of congressional district five are the leading edge of Democratic growth in the state of Oklahoma. It's an area that for a dozen years has been trending Democratic. But, you know, for Stephanie Bice, a well-funded, highly effective challenger who knows how this thing turns out? Could be up very late waiting for that one to come out.

Dick Pryor: Where do you see voters in Seminole and Pottawattamie counties going in that race, that fifth district race?

Keith Gaddie: They'll vote two to one for Stephanie Bice, much as they did for Steve Russell.

Shawn Ashley: Election board secretary Paul Ziriax says outcomes in Oklahoma should be known in the early morning hours on November 4th at the latest. When do you think we will have a realistic idea of the presidential and key U.S. Senate and congressional races?

Keith Gaddie: Okay. For the presidential race we're going to be arguing about this all the way into the beginning of the second week of December. We get beginning of the second week of December is the deadline for states to certify their electors and file electoral votes and they've got until the end to certify the popular vote count, depending on what their state law says. And in key states, we could get into litigation, we could get into recounts. But we have about a 40-day period between the general election and the need for states to transmit their electoral votes, during which time a full and complete count will take place.

There is no requirement to finish counting ballots at midnight on Tuesday in November. The election does not act like Cinderella's coach and turn back into a pumpkin. Okay? We take our time, we count it up and we do it right. And then if we need to in Oklahoma, we've got great technology and a great voting system. We just re-scan everything again and we double check it, right. Around the rest of the country different procedures, different voting mechanisms impacts the amount of time it takes.

Now, with regard to the U.S. Senate, we may not know who's in control of the U.S. Senate until after the Senate convenes in January. There are two highly contentious U.S. Senate races in the state of Georgia. And Georgia uses a majority vote requirement in the general election to elect U.S. senators. Both of those Senate races appear to be headed to runoffs and the Republicans will be favored in both of those runoff elections. But those runoffs won't occur until January 6, which means we won't have a count from Atlanta until around January 12, which means the new senator won't come in until right before the next presidential term starts.

Dick Pryor: What do you think will surprise us on election night?

Keith Gaddie: Dick, at this point, I'm through trying to predict surprises in 2020. I think I'm going to sit back with a cup of popcorn and wait in stark amazement to see what happens.

Dick Pryor: OU professor. Dr. Keith Gaddie, thanks for joining us for Capitol Insider.

Keith Gaddie: Pleasure to be here gentlemen, thank you.

Dick Pryor: If you have questions, e-mail us at news@kgou.org, or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 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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