BY NORM ROURKE
Women were given the right to vote. People of all races were given the right to vote. Those 18-years-old were given the right to vote.
It was well past time that these Americans were given the right to vote. And when this right was given there were no restrictions placed on what party, if any, they were to affiliate themselves with. Nor were there any restrictions placed on which elections they could cast their votes. This is as it should be.
But this isn’t true for the more than 250,000 registered independents in Oklahoma. These voters have been denied the right to vote in primary elections just because they choose not to affiliate with either of the major political parties. This isn’t right.
Why should independents be penalized because leaders of the Democratic or Republican parties say they should be? Who gave them the right to deny anyone from voting? Who made them God?
Independents are not wing nuts or whackos just because they don’t follow a specific political party line. More often than not, they vote for candidates of the major parties. They strive to choose the best from each party. That alone should make their vote more palatable and worthy. They aren’t necessarily pushing for a third party. They just want fairness and equality in the voting process.
In the last presidential and congressional elections, political pundits and TV talking heads made much of the impact independents would have on the outcome of these elections. This impact is continuing to grow and more people are choosing to be independent in their political thinking and voting.
So why does Oklahoma continue to deny independents the right to vote in primaries? Is it because some dim wits in the Legislature still live in the Dark Ages of political progress? Is it because party bosses fear a loss of power? Or is it just plain fear of something new that the good old boys can’t handle?
Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, has introduced legislation [HB 1287, assigned to the House Rules Committee] that would allow independents to vote in presidential primaries. This is a start, but only a totally open primary where independents can vote is what’s needed to bring Oklahoma into the 21st Century politically. Unfortunately, a vote on his bill has been stifled by GOP legislators who have also added a plank in their party’s platform that denies the right of independents to vote in primary elections.
It is interesting that in current political campaign talk, the word “values” is freely used. Where are these so-called “values” when it comes to allowing 250,000 Oklahomans their right to vote in primary elections? Do “values” only apply to those who support a party line? It would seem the politicians’ values fall short of their campaign rhetoric … which isn’t surprising.
Woody Guthrie said it well: The times they are a changin’. Of course Woody was vilified by the status quo because he didn’t buy into the political clap trap of his day. Unfortunately as far as politics, not much has changed since Woody’s day. The party bosses are still calling the shots.
Note to Oklahoma legislators: The number of independent voters is growing. They are making their own choices after thoroughly examining the candidates and their campaign rhetoric. They are not being bound by what some party boss tells them. They may lean toward either party, but their ultimate decision will be made by what they believe to be best for the state regardless of party. Denying them the right to vote in primary elections will continue to lessen your influence and respect.
Ultimately independents will gain their right to vote in primary elections in spite of your stubbornness and archaic ideas to the contrary. Remember, it was a hard battle to enact term limits as professional politicians in the legislature fought it. But it came. And so will the right for independents to vote in primary elections.
– Norm Rourke lives in Beggs, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer