The state’s most purple county widely supported a state question on Tuesday that would have further altered criminal justice in the state, narrowly missed out on supporting Democrat Joe Biden for President, and saw the state’s only Democrat member of Congress lose her seat in Washington.
President Donald Trump narrowly edged Biden in Oklahoma County, while overall support for the President stayed mostly flat across the state.
Biden outperformed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance across the state, according to uncertified vote totals from the Oklahoma Election Board.
Biden, who as of Wednesday afternoon appeared to have at least a tenuous hold on the race for the presidency, grabbed about 3.5 more percentage points over Clinton’s 2016 total in Oklahoma. Statewide, Biden collected 503,289 votes (32.29 percent) compared to 420,375 votes for Clinton (28.93 percent.)
While Biden didn’t turn Oklahoma County blue, as Democrats in the state had hoped, he did significantly outperform Clinton in 2016. Biden collected 141,587 votes (48.08 percent) in Oklahoma County, compared to 112,813 votes (41.18 percent) for Clinton in 2016.
Biden also outperformed Clinton in Tulsa County, grabbing 40.88 percent of the vote compared to the 35.56 percent Clinton collected in 2016.
Overall, Trump’s statewide numbers stayed mostly flat. While more than one million Oklahomans voted for Trump this year, his percentage of votes was almost identical to the last election cycle. In 2016, 949,136 Oklahomans voted for Trump, representing 65.37 percent of the vote. In 2016 Trump received 65.32 percent of the overall vote.
Tuesday’s election set the stage for continued political battles in Oklahoma County as the area continues to transform itself in an otherwise completely red state.
Stephanie Bice, a state senator who, with great help from national Republican groups, ran against perhaps the most vulnerable Democratic member of Congress in Rep. Kendra Horn, riding record voter turnout to a 4-point win in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District.
Bice got just over 52 percent of the vote (158,044) compared to Horn, who collected 145,541 votes. Horn, who won a surprise victory in 2018 over incumbent Republican Steve Russell, got about 24,000 more votes this cycle, but still fell to Bice, who gave national Republicans a much coveted seat in the House of Representatives.
“I was looking on social media today and I was seeing a lot of despair,” said Donelle Harder, the former Senior Policy Advisor for Gov. Kevin Stitt. Harder is now CEO of communications consulting firm Pliris Strategies.
“What voters should really be excited about is Oklahoma now looks like a place where candidates are going to really have to work for the benefit of everyone in order to get elected. It’s not a safe seat for Republicans going forward at all.”
Oklahoma House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she believed that Bice was elected because voters in CD-5 were inundated with advertisements focused more on what was happening in Washington D.C. rather than Oklahoma.
“I was really disappointed by the tone of what Republicans were doing in that race,” Virgin said. “They just weren’t talking about the issues that people are facing. I know a lot of that was not coming from the Bice campaign, that it was coming from Republican groups at the national level and dark money groups. But it had an affect.”
Virgin said that national Democrat leaders will likely move quickly to begin looking for a candidate to run against Bice in 2022, so what was once viewed as the most vulnerable Democrat seat in the House could immediately become the most vulnerable Republican seat.
“I don’t think voters in CD-5 are going to get any break whatsoever,” Virgin said. “Campaigning there is probably going to begin immediately.”
Abby Broyles, a Democrat who challenged longtime incumbent Sen. Jim Inhofe, lost by a large margin on Tuesday, as well, and the state’s Congressional delegation is once again completely represented by Republicans.
Meanwhile, support for State Question 805 lagged behind prior criminal justice reform measures in the state.
In 2016, State Question 780, which reclassified some felonies as misdemeanors, won with wide support across Oklahoma. But State Question 805, which would have ended some sentencing enhancements for certain crimes labeled “non-violent” won only one county on Tuesday and was easily defeated.
State Question 780 was expected to pass in 2016, but the margin by which it did (831,123 votes for to 596,070 against) surprised many. Likewise, the State Question 805 results Tuesday were a surprise to some as well. Only 587,502 Oklahomans voted in favor of the reform, which was supported by criminal justice reform advocates but roundly criticized by prosecutors and law enforcement officials across the state. Almost one million people (922,156) voted against the measure.
Oklahoma County, where the initiative was supported by 152,636 votes for, compared to 128,843 against, was the only county where it passed.
“I wasn’t surprised about Oklahoma County going for 805,” Harder said. “I think it’s the heart of criminal justice reform in the state.”
Harder said she was surprised, however, by the overall margin of defeat.
“I think it lost because it would have put it in the (Oklahoma) constitution,” Harder said. “ don’t think it was people being for it or against it. I think it was a huge concern for people about it being untouchable once it was in the constitution.”
Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, said he was frustrated by SQ 805’s defeat. The measure faced criticism because while it would have removed sentencing enhancements for non-violent crimes, its critics pointed out that in Oklahoma, some domestic violence offenses are considered non-violent.
“You saw the coalition that supported SQ 805, it was not people that would not take domestic violence issues seriously.” Bennett said. “But … it was an easy talking point for sure for people to drum up some fear.”
Bennett said that he felt the measure was taken up by voters because of inaction by the state Legislature.
“And while the Legislature could take it up again, based on the results last night, I’m not sure it will.”
Virgin said it’s time for the Legislature to “stop shirking” their responsibility and take the reigns of criminal justice reform moving forward.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome of SQ 805. And we’ve seen some success in recent years with reform through ballot initiatives but that doesn’t mean the Legislature does not have some responsibility to do something themselves,” Virgin said. “We still have an over-incarceration problem and too many people locked up for mental health and substance abuse issues.”