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Politics and Government

Nearly half of Oklahoma legislative races already are decided without a vote

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Whitney Bryen
/
Oklahoma Watch
Candidates for office in Oklahoma filed their applications last week at the State Capitol.

Hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma won’t have a say in selecting their state senator or representatives this year.

Of the 125 legislative seats on the 2022 ballot, 44% have already been decided. Fewer than one-third will be contested in November.

In 55 House or Senate races, only one person filed by the April 15 deadline, earning those candidates an elected office without securing a vote or making their case to voters.

Among those automatic winners are 37 House Republicans, eight House Democrats, five Senate Republicans and three Senate Democrats.

In addition to those 53 incumbents with no opposition there are two uncontested newcomers: Jerry Alvord, a former Carter County Commissioner who will represent Senate District 14, and Tulsa insurance agent Mark Tedford, who will represent House District 69.

Each Oklahoma Senate district includes 81,935 residents; each House district about 38,939. Voting advocates say competitive races create an engaged electorate and help to hold candidates accountable.

However, districts that strongly favor one party or are represented by a well-funded incumbent discourage competitive races. Oklahoma’s struggles have worsened.

When 50 of 125 legislative races went uncontested in 2020, party leaders blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for a lower than normal turnout of candidates. Even then, Oklahoma featured more uncompetitive legislative races than most of the country.

The state had the fifth-highest percentage of races without two challengers from major parties among the 44 states with 2020 legislative elections, according to Ballotpedia, a nonprofit organization that tracks elections.

Only 245 candidates filed for the legislature last week, down from 256 in 2020.

Republicans, who control 81.2% of the Legislature, produced 182 candidates. With at least one candidate in 111 of 125 legislative races, the GOP is in position to pick up more seats.

By contrast, just 58 Democrats filed for House or Senate races, leaving 61% without a Democratic candidate. Democrats could win every general election race and still fall well short of a majority in the House or Senate, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis.

Assuming no candidates pull out or are removed after contests of candidacy hearings are finished, there will be 45 GOP primary races and just six for Democrats.

Republicans are already assured of controlling 35 of the 48 Senate seats (half of the Senate is not up for election this year) and 60 of the 101 House seats.

Democrats will control at least nine House seats and six Senate seats, leaving just 32 House seats and seven Senate seats up for grabs.

Statewide and Congressional Races

Oklahoma’s crowded slate of statewide and congressional seats will be more competitive.

In addition to the five U.S. House seats, U.S. Sen. James Lankford seeks re-election and there will be a special election to replace U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who announced early retirement plans.

The governor’s race tops the statewide races that include lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, state auditor and inspector, commissioner of labor, insurance commissioner and corporation commissioner.

Of these races, only one has already been decided: Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready will be re-elected without a challenger.

No Democrats filed for either state auditor and inspector or attorney general, but there will be contested races in the general for the rest of the seats.

The GOP primary season will include challengers for all races except for lieutenant governor and Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional district, where Matt Pinnell and Kevin Hern, respectively, clinched their party’s nomination in the re-election bids.

Many of the GOP primaries will be very crowded with 14 candidates seeking the open 2nd Congressional District race and 13 candidates seeking the U.S. Senate seat Inhofe is leaving.

Democrats, meanwhile, will see primaries for just two races: The match-up between Joy Hofmeister and Connie Johnson for the party’s gubernatorial nomination and a five-person field vying for the right to represent the party for Lankford’s U.S. Senate seat.

Candidates who have drawn a primary challenger won’t have much time to waste. Oklahoma’s primary will be held on June 28 and the runoff will be Aug. 23, if needed.

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

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