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Nov. 4 saw huge turnout at polls, but not everyone completed ballots


Scott Cooper November 20th, 2008

There are three losing candidates who looked at the election results, saw the number of people who decided not to vote in their race and shook their heads, wondering what it takes to get people to vot...

There are three losing candidates who looked at the election results, saw the number of people who decided not to vote in their race and shook their heads, wondering what it takes to get people to vote.

APATHY TO INDIFFERENCE
BACKSIDES

Most elections have a clear-cut winner when the votes are tallied, but a few need a close examination before the victor is declared. Those races' final numbers are so thin Parker Brothers could patent a new board game called "Election What If." The vote margin for some races is smaller than the number of people who still own a Ford Pinto.

Count Dana Orwig as one of the new "what if" players.

"It may be that my results would have been different had I concentrated on those high to moderate performing voters," she said. "Or it may be that the anti-Obama vote was much higher than I had anticipated. Or I should have gone on TV. Or it was the wrong color green on my fifth mail piece. Or ..."

Whatever the case, the final result was Democrat Orwig losing to Republican Jason Nelson for House District 87, which encompasses northwest Oklahoma City. Orwig lost by 1 percent, 6,939 to 6,753, or just 186 votes. But the number of people who went to the polling precincts in District 87 and failed to vote on the race, known as "under votes," were 487.

APATHY TO INDIFFERENCE
University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie said there are a variety of reasons people decide not to vote on some races. The excuses vary from apathy to indifference.

"Some people don't like to make choices that are uninformed, so they vote for those offices or state questions where they know they can make an informed choice," said Gaddie, who has written books on the subject of voting patterns and behavior. "The other stuff, they just skip it. It may be that they feel ignorant or they don't feel like guessing."

Other reasons include the design of the ballot, which may confuse voters, or that some people heading to the polls are just interested in one or two races. Orwig found this out firsthand. After passing out candidate flyers at an apartment complex " which included an offer to provide rides on Election Day " Orwig said her office got a call from an elderly woman needing a ride.

"She went in to the building, no line at this point, and was back in what seemed a pretty quick time," Orwig said. "So as we pulled away, I remarked, 'Well, that didn't take long,' to which she replied, 'Yes, I marked my ballot for Obama, but I didn't know anything about anybody else to vote for, so I just handed it in and left.'"

Remaining unmarked by the Obama voter were races for U.S. Senate, Congress, two Oklahoma Corporation Commission seats, county sheriff, nine state judges' retention, five state questions and five Oklahoma City charter amendments. Some ballots in other districts had city council races to decide, as well as county offices, like the board of commissioners and court clerk. A voter could walk into a booth on Nov. 4 and have more than 30 races and questions to contemplate.

"You look at the Oklahoma ballot, it's a front and back ballot," Gaddie said. "You vote the front of the thing and you think you're done and you turn in the ballot without voting for what was on the back. If you notice, the biggest roll off (under votes) on the ballot this year is on back of the ballot stuff."

BACKSIDES
Most ballot backsides included the votes to retain judges and the state questions. Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice John Reif was retained by an overwhelming margin, 63 percent to 37 percent. But he also had one of the highest under vote marks of 16.4 percent, or 241,814 out of more than 1.4 million ballots cast. Most races have an under vote count of 3 percent to 5 percent.

Gaddie said retention of judges and ballot questions are two of the more confusing aspects for voters.

"With the judges it's not really a choice, it's yes or no," said Gaddie, an Oklahoma Gazette commentary writer. "Should this person keep his job or not? There's about a third of the public that has an attitude that says these guys are lawyers, they can get jobs anyway so you vote against them. Because there is no other choice and they can't campaign for retention, those become the lowest information items on the ballot.

"With regard to state questions, it's kind of like a pop quiz. You sit down and look and it's like the interpretation and understanding portion of the SAT. Read this paragraph and answer these questions. Some people just don't want to do that and skip the state questions or just vote against it for no particular reason."

State Sen. Jim Reynolds had to wait for a recount before declared the winner of his contest against David L. Boren (not the University of Oklahoma president). The final vote difference was 157 with 774 under votes.

Republican Aaron Carlson also lost a close race where the margin was less than the under vote. The race for House District 34 in Payne County went to Democrat Cory Williams by only 63 votes. As for the under votes, Carlson said the message is simple.

"They voted none of the above." "Scott Cooper

 
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