Education, Law & Principles

Oklahoma groups want school board elections on Election Day

February 1, 2024

Brandon Dutcher

By now it’s well known that with local school board elections being held on unusual dates, voter turnout is extremely low. A February 2023 school board election in Claremore, for example, drew only 3.67 percent of eligible voters, while in Owasso it was 3.3 percent. Additional examples abound.

For many in the education community, this low voter turnout is a feature, not a bug. As Yale University political scientist Eitan Hersh wrote in 2015, “Scheduling local elections at odd times appears to be a deliberate strategy aimed at keeping turnout low, which gives more influence to groups like teachers unions that have a direct stake in the election’s outcome.” (The president of the Western Heights school board, elected with a whopping 328 votes, was a school board candidate while also working as an Oklahoma Education Association organizer.)

Unsurprisingly, then, many current school board members don’t want elections to be held in November. Former state Sen. J.J. Dossett (D-Owasso), to his great credit, actually said the quiet part out loud: “They have concerns that there will be a larger, uninformed voter (group) making the decision. And I guess, honestly, they like lower turnout with a higher-informed voter.”

Two bills being considered in the Oklahoma Legislature, SB 244 (Seifried) and HB 3563 (Banning), would move elections to Election Day, thus boosting voter turnout and making local school boards more representative of the electorate as a whole.

Several groups in Oklahoma are on board with this reform. [More groups are being added weekly, and this post will be updated accordingly.]