Oklahomans, let's declare our independence!

It's time to let registered independents in Oklahoma vote in the primary elections. According to the results of a recent SoonerPoll.com survey reported elsewhere in this newspaper, almost two-thirds of Oklahoma's registered voters agree with this proposal.

That includes more than half of the Republicans, nearly two-thirds of the Democrats and almost all of the independents registered in Oklahoma. How many people have told you they haven't registered independent because they can't vote in the primaries?

The election process belongs to us as citizens of Oklahoma, and making the change to allow independents to vote in primaries is as simple as changing a statute. The law currently provides that independents can only vote in a party primary with the party's permission. The two major parties obviously haven't given permission.

It's difficult to imagine that our partisan Legislature would ever change this statute on its own, regardless of whether the Republicans or Democrats are in charge. They have their self-interests to protect.

We have the power to change the statute ourselves through the initiative petition process. That currently takes signatures on a petition in excess of 8 percent of the number of the highest number of votes cast in the last general election for a state office. That number is approximately 113,086 signatures.

When you consider that there are now 225,607 registered independents in Oklahoma, the signatures of one out of two independents would be sufficient to call an election to change the law. If you apply the poll results to the number of registered Democrats and Republicans in Oklahoma, there's a million more voters wanting the change and are likely to sign a petition and vote for it, too.

This could be the easiest petition to circulate in state history. All 225,607 independents are potential petition circulators, as well as many of the Democrats and Republicans who support the change. With modern technology, the entire campaign could be organized online once a mailing goes out to registered independents to get their e-mail addresses.

Now here's my caveat: It is important that an organization formed for this initiative petition strictly limit itself to getting independents access to primary elections and disband itself immediately after passage of the state question. There should be no organizational links to any issues, ideologies, agendas or organizations. The single focus should be opening primaries to independent voters, not building a new political party or movement.

Beyond the fact that almost two-thirds of the state's voters prefer this change, and it would be relative easy to accomplish, what's to be gained for the good of the state?

First, it greatly enhances participation in the election process. Democrats and Republicans who are now disillusioned can register independent and have a greater choice of candidates to motivate them to vote in the primary elections.

Secondly, it will provide better choices in the general elections. In case you haven't noticed, our political parties are not held in high esteem by the citizens. General election choices often come down to the lesser of two evils. Allowing independents to vote in primaries should provide more viable candidates in the general elections.

Thirdly, it provides greater opportunities for candidates to succeed who aren't part of the partisan and ideologically driven hard core of the two major parties who often put self preservation above the common good.

So what are we waiting for, Oklahoma? Let's declare our independence!

Bleakley is publisher of
Oklahoma Gazette.

  • or