Education , Law & Principles

Brandon Dutcher | September 19, 2023

Unusual election dates are a drag on voter turnout

Brandon Dutcher

Thanks to the reporting of an independent journalist at The V1SUT Vantage, we know that the Western Heights school district now employs as an elementary-school principal a 52-year-old man who: moonlights as a drag queen and was crowned Miss Gay Oklahoma; was arrested three years ago for driving with a blood-alcohol content of nearly three times the legal limit; co-founded the Oklahoma City Drag Queen Story Hour; and “had been attempting to adopt a little boy during the time period surrounding his 2001 arrest for child pornography possession.” (A judge dismissed the child porn charge but stated his personal opinion that the defendant “should be nowhere around young children.”)

Not the person I would have hired to look after 400 young children, but I’m quirky that way.

Nevertheless, a “democratically elected” school board can do what it wants, right? “Local control” and all that. Unfortunately, as political scientist Greg Forster observed in a recent article for OCPA, “The way we elect school boards could hardly be less democratic if the ballots were kept in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.’”

Consider the Western Heights Board of Education. It is “comprised of five members elected by District patrons.” Just not very many District patrons.

  1. Board president Briana Flatley was elected with 328 votes. Not by a margin of 328 votes, mind you. She was elected with a total of 328 votes. (Interestingly, Flatley was a school-board candidate while also working as an Oklahoma Education Association organizer.)

  2. Board vice president Darrin Dunkin was elected without receiving any votes. The primary and general elections were canceled after Dunkin was the only candidate to file for the seat.

  3. Brayden Hunt was elected with 156 votes.

  4. Teresa Lewis didn’t receive any votes; she was appointed by the Western Heights Board of Education following the resignation of another board member.

  5. Jerome Johnson didn’t receive any votes; he was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt following the resignation of another board member.

“One of the cornerstones of this strange kind of democracy,” Dr. Forster writes, “is holding school board elections at extremely unusual times—generally in the spring.” Briana Flatley was elected on April 6, 2021. Brayden Hunt was elected on April 4, 2023.

Surprising as this is to ordinary people who are blessedly unfamiliar with the techniques of political rent-seeking, it’s actually quite rare for school board elections to be held on Election Day. This ensures that only the most highly motivated voters participate—the special interests who profit by governing the system for their own advantage. So school boards, who are the front-line party responsible for negotiating terms with school employees, mostly represent the interests of the employees [recall that Flatley was a union organizer], not the public who pays for the system and is supposed to be served by it.

Small surprise that almost no one votes in school board elections. Even with high-boil controversies over pandemic policies, sexuality, and race in schools, people don’t know when the elections are happening. And if they do, they know that most others don’t, so reform candidates are unlikely to succeed. The disincentive to vote is self-reinforcing.

It’s time to boost the turnout of voters who are, shall we say, more representative of the electorate as a whole.

To their great credit, members of the state Senate this year voted 31-15 to move school-board elections to the November general-election ballot. Regrettably, the measure (SB 244) died in the House of Representatives.

Brandon Dutcher Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher

Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. Originally an OCPA board member, he joined the staff in 1995. Dutcher received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma. He received a master’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public policy from Regent University. Dutcher is listed in the Heritage Foundation Guide to Public Policy Experts, and is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His award-winning articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine, Forbes.com, Mises.org, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. He and his wife, Susie, have six children and live in Edmond.

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