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State Election Board approves new GOP members for Oklahoma County

The Oklahoma State Election Board hears from former lawmaker Wayne Pettigrew via teleconference before approving him to be the new GOP representative on the Oklahoma County Election Board during a special meeting at the Capitol in Oklahoma City on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.
Paul Monies
Oklahoma Watch
The Oklahoma State Election Board hears from former lawmaker Wayne Pettigrew via teleconference before approving him to be the new GOP representative on the Oklahoma County Election Board during a special meeting at the Capitol in Oklahoma City on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.

The Oklahoma State Election Board on Friday appointed two new Republican members to the Oklahoma County Election Board, just days after removing two GOP members in that county for failing to certify recent elections and spreading misinformation about the election process.

Former state lawmaker Wayne Pettigrew, who served in the House from 1994 to 2004, is the new Republican member of the three-person Oklahoma County Election Board. Ernie Wiggins, a retired pharmaceutical sales representative from Edmond, is the new Republican alternate.

The new GOP members were appointed in time to process the Feb. 13 election in Oklahoma County, which includes a special election to fill an unexpired term in House District 39, as well as several school board and city elections.

Both Pettigrew and Wiggins answered a series of questions from State Election Board Chairwoman Heather Mahieu Cline about their experience and understanding of election processes. The three-person state board approved their nominations unanimously in separate votes. Their terms will run until April 30, 2027.

Pettigrew said he’s served on more than 40 boards and commissions, including civic groups, a hospital board and a business association.

“I’ve always been very defensive of our election process,” Pettigrew told the board. “I think we have one of the finest processes in the nation, and I want to make sure we continue in that endeavor.”

Wiggins said he has been a GOP precinct inspector at Precinct 475 in Oklahoma County since 2022 and said he worked well with his Democratic counterpart in that role. Although he’s been a long-time voter, he’s never been involved in local politics until recently, Wiggins said.

“I guess this is the next step,” Wiggins told the board. “I was called, and whenever I’m called to do something, I did that throughout my entire career in big pharma.”

Paul Ziriax, secretary of the State Election Board, asked the pair to exercise discernment when it comes to discussing election processes and results in Oklahoma. Ziriax recited a list of election misinformation and disinformation he’s heard recently from some members of the public, which he said was just the tip of the iceberg.

“There are people who say and believe false and misleading things about elections, even here in Oklahoma,” Ziriax said. “As an election official, it’s critical you exercise discernment when presented with these kinds of things. Because there are people out there who attempt to use false narratives to influence you or your actions. This by no means is meant to say you shouldn’t ask questions, or shouldn’t be informed, but there is some very wild stuff out there.”

Pettigrew said even though he’s been an elected official, a recent tour of the Oklahoma County Election Board was revealing.

“There are things about the system that I was unaware of; safeguards, those sorts of things, that I don’t think the average person would know, nor a former legislator,” Pettigrew said.

The state Election Board on Jan. 31 removed Cheryl Williams and Jenni White from their roles as vice-chair and GOP alternate of the Oklahoma County Election Board after a closed-door executive session that lasted more than 10 hours.

The board determined Williams and White had failed to certify election results, refused to approve meeting minutes and didn’t disclose conflicts of interest. They both maintained they were only asking questions about the absentee ballot processing at the Oklahoma County Election Board.

County-level election secretaries are appointed by the state election board, which can remove party representatives from those county election boards. The Republican and Democratic parties in each county recommend a member and an alternate to serve on the three-member county election board.

Ken Warner, chairman of the Oklahoma County Republican Party, said Friday he had confidence in both Pettigrew and Wiggins, who were nominated to the roles by the Oklahoma County Republican Central Committee.

“We want election integrity, and these two gentlemen will be able to provide that not only for the GOP county party, but also for the election board,” Warner said.

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

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.
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