By SEAN MURPHY The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma smashed records for early voting this year and has experienced a surge in voter registration ahead of Tuesday’s election, state officials reported Monday.
More than 437,000 Oklahomans cast ballots early this year, either by mail or in-person, according to Oklahoma Election Board statistics. That dwarfs the 253,379 who voted early in the 2016 presidential election.
Of the 437,459 Oklahomans who cast early ballots, 272,128 voters cast absentee ballots by mail, and another 165,331 cast early votes in person at election board offices across the state. In some of the state’s largest counties, including Cleveland, Oklahoma and Tulsa, many voters waited for hours to cast early ballots.
Oklahoma’s voter registration numbers also have skyrocketed ahead of this year’s general election, increasing by 169,000 registered voters since Jan. 15 and nearly 53,000 since Sept. 30. The total number of registered voters now has reached the highest number before a presidential election since Oklahoma began tracking those statistics in 2000.
“The surge in voter registrations is a clear indication that Oklahomans are highly interested in the 2020 general election,” Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said in a statement. “It is a positive sign for higher voter participation this year.”
Election action began well before Tuesday at the LeFlore County Election Board, according to Board Secretary Sharon Steele.
Early in-person voting ended Saturday, and Steele said Monday morning that 2,732 people had cast early in-person ballots, compared to about 2,300 in the 2016 elections.
She said 1,233 mail-in ballots had been received. The election board mailed out 1,687 ballots in response to requests.
Mail-in ballots by Tuesday will still be counted, she said.
Steele said there was more interest in this election than previous ones, and said she didn’t think the increase in early voting was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said her office was getting more calls this election than in the past, with most people asking basic questions about registration, voting times and polling place locations.
Registration statistics through Nov. 1 show Republicans now make up 50.01% of Oklahoma’s electorate, while Democrats are 33.23%, independents are 16.10%, and Libertarians are 0.66%.
Meanwhile, about a dozen of the state’s 800 polling locations remained without power on Monday following an ice storm that hammered the state last week, but state and utility officials said they were prioritizing those locations ahead of Tuesday’s election. If power can’t be restored, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security will work with the Election Board to ensure portable generators are delivered as a contingency.
“Oklahomans will still be able to vote at their polling place even if the location doesn’t have power, because Oklahoma uses paper ballots,” Ziriax said. “All ballot boxes have ’emergency bins’ where ballots can be deposited in the event of a power outage or technical issue. Ballots can then be counted by the ballot scanner once the power is back on or counted at the county election board later that evening.”
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