On June 30th, Oklahoma voters narrowly passed State Question 802 to expand Medicaid in the state. The vote not only placed the issue in the state Constitution, but gave an indication of the Oklahoma political landscape in the 2020 election year. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss the fallout of the 802 vote in the latest Capitol Insider.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, Oklahoma voters passed Medicaid expansion, State Question 802, on Tuesday by a very small margin, just over six thousand votes. It soon becomes part of the state Constitution. So, what happens next?
Shawn Ashley: Well, once certified by the State Election Board, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority will begin the process of implementing State Question 802. And essentially, they have about a year to do it - until July 1st, 2021. One of the big issues that will have to be resolved between now and then is how to fund it. Estimates are that it will cost somewhere between 160 million and 200 million dollars. Governor Kevin Stitt on Tuesday indicated that would probably be very difficult for the legislature to come up with. And both Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall have indicated that's a concern of their’s as well. We'll see in the next legislative session how they do that.
Dick Pryor: The vote was fascinating. State Question 802 passed by significant margins in the metro areas and only seven counties: Oklahoma, Tulsa, Cleveland, Comanche, Payne, Cherokee and Pontotoc. That points out a huge urban/rural split.
Shawn Ashley: That's very true. And in some ways, this is not unlike what we saw two years ago when State Question 788, the medical marijuana question, was on the ballot. It really took the votes in the urban areas to put that over the finish line and for it to pass. Now, what's interesting, as you note as well, only seven counties passed State Question 802, and medical marijuana passed in more counties in 2018 than it failed. So, there is a considerable difference there, as well.
Dick Pryor: Absentee mail in and early in-person balloting was overwhelmingly in favor of the state question while Election Day voting was strongly against and the number of mail-in ballots was striking.
Shawn Ashley: Yes, there were nearly 95,000 mail-in ballots cast in this election, some 76,000 in favor of the state question. And as you noted, the proposition failed in terms of Election Day balloting alone. In-person absentee balloting weighed in favor of the question. Now, I mentioned a moment ago State Question 788, which was approved by voters in 2018. In that election, only 30,000 mail-in ballots were cast and only 47,000 early votes were cast. And the total number of votes in that election was 893,000. Some 200,000 more than the 674,000 which were cast in State Question 802’s election.
Dick Pryor: What will the voting rules be in the August primary runoff and the November general election?
Shawn Ashley: Under the provisions of legislation passed this year, Oklahomans have additional mail-in absentee ballot options when the election takes place within a certain number of days of a state of emergency related to COVID-19. Because we are currently under that state of emergency we were able to submit absentee ballots either with two signatures witnessing or with a copy of certain voter identification. We'll have to get a little closer to the August 25th primary runoff election and then close to the November 3rd general election before we know exactly what rules will apply.
Dick Pryor: Shawn, COVID-19 likely was the major factor in how people voted in the primary. The state is continuing its Phase 3 reopening plan even as the number of infections has been going up. Other states have paused, but Oklahoma is not pausing, and Governor Stitt is adamantly against mandating wearing masks. What's his rationale for not mandating masks?
Shawn Ashley: Well, on Tuesday, Governor Stitt’s new commissioner of health, Dr. Lance Frye, did urge Oklahomans to wear masks in those situations where they could not adequately social distance. One of his reasons against mandating mask is he said that it would be very difficult to enforce such a mandate. And in fact, we've already seen problems with that in Oklahoma in March. In Stillwater, efforts to require masks were met with opposition from individuals as well as threats of violence. And that mask requirement was eventually pulled back. I think it's important to note, though, that Governor Stitt did say on Tuesday that research shows masks lower transmission. And, he urged Oklahomans to wear them when it was appropriate to do so.
Dick Pryor: At that press conference, the governor did say he supports local control, suggesting cities and counties are positioned to make decisions about their own locales.
Shawn Ashley: Yes, and that's been in keeping with what he has said throughout this pandemic and to further that effort. The governor notes that the State Department of Health will be unveiling a color-coordinated county-by-county heat map to allow local officials to make informed decisions on how to combat the spread of the disease within their communities. And so that individuals can also adequately protect themselves and take precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Dick Pryor: All right. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at email@example.com or contact us on Twitter @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.