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Early voting in primary races, SQ 802, local issues begins today

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
A sign direct early voters to the temporary entrance of election offices for early voting. A county election official said the dedicated entrance will promote social distancing during early voting on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Oklahomans begin in-person voting Thursday on a slew of races and issues both locally and nationally. While voters will be limited to specific party ballots for local and national primaries through the June 30 primary election, all Oklahoma voters will decide the future of the current plan to expand Medicaid.

Early voting will be held at county election offices Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., and again Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Polling precincts will open on Tuesday, June 30, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Voters will need a photo ID or voter registration card for early voting in their home county and election day voting. Absentee ballots must be returned to the county election board before polls close on Tuesday. 

While Republican ballots will be limited to registered Republican voters, Democratic ballots will be open to registered Democratic and Independent voters. Statewide and local issues will be open to all registered voters, however. Carter County Election Board Secretary Diane Hall said that COVID-19 precautions may result in election day looking different than in year's past.

Voters casting ballots at the Carter County Election Board on Thursday, Friday and Saturday will actually use the extension office entrance next to the election board. From there, voters will pick up a pen that will stay with them during the entire voting process. Red marks on the floor spaced at six feet will help promote social distancing, while signs and staff will direct voters through the voting process. 

"That way they won't be meeting people coming in as they're going out," Hall said. Voters will leave their pen before leaving so it can be cleaned before use by another voter. She said signs will be visible as soon as voters are in the parking lot to direct them through the process.

An elevator serves as a staging area for voters ahead of early voting. County election workers will direct Carter County voters to promote social distancing.

Among the most watched ballot measures is State Question 802 that, if approved, would expand Medicaid in Oklahoma under the federal Affordable Care Act. Supporters, like the Oklahoma Hospital Association and Oklahoma State Medical Association, argue that Medicaid expansion would improve health care access for more people by directing more federal dollars to the state.

Those opposed to Medicaid expansion under SQ 802, including the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs and a number of Republican lawmakers, say it would give Congress too much control over state finances and health care. Oklahoma is among 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

Longtime Republican incumbents representing Oklahoma and the state’s 4th District in Washington, D.C. face primary challenges. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who started his political career in the Oklahoma House in 1967 and was first elected to Congress in 1986, faces two challengers. Rep. Tom Cole, who started in the Oklahoma Senate in 1988 and has been a U.S. Representative since 2003, faces four challengers for the GOP nomination for that Congressional seat.

Democrats will also decide their party’s nominees for Congressional seats between seven total candidates. Four names will appear on the ballot for the Senate nominee, while three names will appear for the House nominee. Candidates who secure these Democratic nominations will face their Republican counterpart in November.

Red tape marks on the floor, spaced at six-foot intervals, directs voters through Carter County election offices. Poll workers will be given masks and face shields, and voters are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings while voting in person.

Most local races will essentially be decided by Republican voters considering the closed nature of the party’s nomination process and the lack of challengers outside of the GOP. Carter County Republicans will decide the three-way race for sheriff, and Carter County District 2 Republicans will decide the two-way race for commissioner.

Party nominations are awarded to candidates who receive more than 50% of the vote, meaning some races with more than two candidates may results in a runoff elections. In that event, the two candidates with the most votes will face a runoff election on Aug. 25.

Local issues in Ratliff City and Wilson will be decided by voters of any party. Some Wilson voters will decide between Bonnie Kennedy or Rex L. Rutledge for Ward 1 council member. Ratliff City voters will decide the fate of a proposition that, if approved, would allow Board of Trustees to be nominated and elected at-large regardless of their place of residence within town.

Hall said that poll workers will begin picking up materials, including kits of personal protective equipment, on Monday and are prepared for election day on Tuesday, June 30. Workers will receive a face shield and PPE is recommended for all voters visiting the election board office or polling places.

Hall said over 700 absentee ballots were sent out and about 200 had already been returned by midday Wednesday. Only 151 absentee ballots were returned for the March 3 primary earlier this year, when 400 early votes were cast ahead of election day.