Problematic precincts: County election official says locations for polling places are scarce in rural areas

Michael Smith
An American flag flies at the Carter County Election Board office on the final day of early voting Saturday. Nearly 400 ballots were cast during the three days of early voting, with more than 80 cast on Saturday alone.

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article swapped polling places for precincts 19 and 61. The following article has been corrected.

Early voting in primary elections has ended in Oklahoma and nearly 400 people have already cast ballots in Carter County. Thousands more are expected to head to the polls on Super Tuesday in the largest primary or caucus day in the country.

Across Carter County, 25 locations—from community centers to churches to Boy Scout lodges—serve as community hubs for civic minded residents to exercise democracy. For most area voters that went to the polls on Super Tuesday in 2016, they will be visiting the same polling precinct this year as well.

One notable exception will be for voters in precincts 34 and 39 near Lone Grove. Carter County Election Board Secretary Diane Hall said that the polling places for those precincts switched with each other after 2016. For some voters in the last presidential primary election, they likely drove past Lone Grove Community Center to vote at New Hope Free Will Baptist Church and vice versa.

While not ideal, Hall said that some precincts in rural parts of the county just don’t have the locations needed for a polling place. Voters in Precinct 39 are actually traveling outside of their precinct to cast a ballot in Lone Grove. Security concerns from Stobtown Free Will Baptist Church prompted Hall to find a new polling place before 2016.

Voters in Precinct 61 also find themselves traveling outside of their precinct to cast a ballot. “[Precinct] 61 was at Plainview school and it got to where they didn’t want strangers driving onto the school grounds to vote, so they asked us to find somewhere else,” Hall said. “Well, there’s not anything so we found Southwest Baptist Church.”

That has resulted in minor confusion for some voters in Precinct 19 in southwest Ardmore. Instead of voting at Southwest Baptist Church, some precinct 19 voters have mistakenly gone to Maranatha Free Will Church since both are located on Myall Road less than a mile apart from each other. Hall said signs were ordered to help guide voters between the two but it’s unclear if they will arrive in time for the March 3 primary elections.

She said signs will still be visible to mark those locations as polling places.

Oklahoma is a closed-primary state, meaning registered voters within a party affiliation can only vote in that party’s primary elections. Last December, the Oklahoma Democratic Party opened their primary elections to registered Independent voters. Independent voters cannot participate in Republican or Libertarian primaries.

For registered Republicans in Oklahoma, President Donald Trump faces five primary challengers. For registered Democrats and Independents, 14 people are seeking the party nomination. Nearly half of the candidates that appear on the Democratic ballot have already announced the suspension of their campaigns, especially after weak results in early voting states like New Hampshire.

No Libertarian Party candidates filed with the state election board during the candidate qualifying period.

Nearly 8,000 Carter County residents cast ballots in the 2016 primary election, with 400 of them cast before election day. Ted Cruz carried Oklahoma and Carter County for the Republican Party and Bernie Sanders took the state and county for the Democratic Party in 2016.

Polling places will be open on Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Absentee ballots must be returned to the county election board before polls close.