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Push for open primaries: Oklahoma United's fight to increase voter participation and choice

There's a few different types of elections: presidential, gubernatorial, even special.

But the start to any election is typically the primaries, the first look at the candidates.

In Oklahoma, there's two options to vote in the primary: registered Republicans or registered Democrats.

You have to choose one or the other, or you can't vote.

Margaret Kobos, the CEO and Founder of Oklahoma United, has a problem with that.

"Oklahoma is last in the country in eligible voter participation and it has been for many years," Kobos said.

Kobos is concerned that voting, a basic American principle laid out in our Constitution, is something many don't have access to.

"They come to us and they say, 'I want open primaries because I haven't been able to vote for county commissioner in 30 years, because there's no candidate and I'm not able to exercise my right to vote'," Kobos said.

Her non-profit organization is advocating for open primaries.

"The open primary system is going to bring different people more choices to all of us, including me as a Republican," Kobos said.

She's concerned about the low voter turnout the primaries draw in.

For example, around 1.1 million people voted for Governor in the 2022 Gubernatorial election.

But in the primaries, about 360,000 voters came out to vote Republican, and 167,000 voted on the Democrat ticket.

Those number don't even total up to half of the registered voters that are paying for the state elections.

For the longest time, a small pool of those voters, independents, couldn't completely exercise their voting right since they don't register for a party.

"We need to liberate the independents," Kobos said. "We need to give them the opportunity to vote in primaries that they're paying for."

Kobos said the low primary turnout also shapes the candidates Oklahomans will be voting for.

"In order to win, because they have such a small pool of people in those primaries, they have to take on views that they don't really believe in, but they have to pander to that extreme," Kobos said.

It's not necessarily a partisan issue. Kobos is a registered Republican advocating for others to vote in the Republican primary.

"Well I'm going to tell you there's a lot of Republicans like me who feel like hostages," Kobos said.

"We go to vote and there might be a list of 13 Republican candidates in a Senate race, and we honestly have to search for someone we can support. That's crazy."

Parties themselves can actually open up their primaries.

For the 2022-2023 election, the Democrats opened their primaries to Independents.

There's a few different types of open primaries the state could adopt.

A partisan registration and ballot would allow registered Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, even Independents, to choose whatever party ballot they would like.

A non-partisan registration but partisan ballot, much like Texas and Arkansas, would not permit registering in a party, but would allow anyone to choose the ballot they would like, with candidates marked with party affiliation.

Another option, non-partisan registration and ballot, would allow anyone to vote in a primary with a ballot that isn't marked with parties.


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