SB 962, a piece of legislation that would move school board election dates to November from the current obscure spring election dates, has stalled in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Hopefully it will continue moving next session, as it would go a long way toward rectifying the woefully low voter turnout that is the current status quo for school board elections in this state. It’s unclear why the House Rules Committee failed to consider and vote on the bill, as it easily passed through the Senate Rules Committee with a 12-1 vote, and subsequently passed the Senate floor with a vote of 38-9.
Why is this bill so important? According to Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, the author of SB 962, school boards have the greatest impact on the people they are supposed to serve, and yet school board elections have extremely low turnout. In addition, the voters in general elections tend to be more reflective of the electorate that the school board serves. Consider the following: in the most recent presidential election, total votes in Payne County numbered about 30,000. However, in the recent school board elections held across the same county, fewer than 4,000 votes were cast, a mere 13 percent of the presidential voter turnout.
As 1889 Institute has stated previously, obscure election dates and low voter turnout are a problem. In the case of the MAPS 4 vote, a mere three percent of the citizens of Oklahoma City voted in favor of the tax increase. In the case of school board elections or local elections, an extremely small group of motivated voters likely determines who gets elected to those positions. This in turn could create an all too cozy relationship between the school boards and the education establishment. In a moment of candor during discussion on the Senate floor (March 10th), Senator JJ Dossett acknowledged that those already within school district administration and those currently on school boards in his district seemed to prefer low voter turnout in their school board elections. With such low turnout, teacher unions could easily decide these elections. It’s no surprise that those they elect are opposed to the November election date reform. Why risk a change to the method that got you elected in the first place?
The true irony of the debate surrounding SB 962 is the noted absence of one of the left’s favorite talking points, so-called “voter suppression.” When it comes to an actual tangible example of low voter turnout due to obscure and under-publicized election dates – in this case Oklahoma school board elections – they are willing to look the other way. Look at the vote tally from the Senate floor for SB 962: unanimous Republican support and zero Democratic support.
SB 962 is a great piece of legislation that would disrupt the education status quo, dramatically increase voter turnout in school board elections, and ensure that a tiny minority of the education establishment is not deciding elections that dramatically impact Oklahoma families. If legislators in the House (Republican and Democrat alike) care about increasing voter turnout or alleviating an actual example of “voter suppression” in this state, they would prioritize a measure like SB 962 when the legislature reconvenes next year.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.