A wide swath of urban and rural voters rejected State Question 805, bringing a yearlong campaign by criminal justice reform advocates to modify Oklahoma’s sentencing laws to an undramatic end.
All 77 counties opposed the ballot initiative, which would have modified the state Constitution and prevented courts from imposing sentence enhancements on any person who has never been convicted of a violent felony. State Question 805 defined a violent felony as any offense listed in Title 57, section 571 of the Oklahoma State Statutes as of Jan. 1, 2020.
State Question 805 was most competitive in Oklahoma, Cleveland and Comanche counties, where between 46% and 48% of voters supported the measure. In each of the state’s 69 remaining counties, including urban Tulsa County, more than 60% of voters opposed the state question.
Campaign finance documents show the Yes on 805 group, led by attorney Sarah Edwards and former House speaker Kris Steele, generated more than $8 million in monetary and in-kind contributions from July through September. Most of the money came from out-of-state interest groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Fwd.Us, a San Francisco and Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization that advocates for prison reform.
Meanwhile, Oklahomans United Against 805 raised just $133,400 throughout the same July through September period. Most of their contributions came from individuals.
Though lacking in funds, the opposition group found widespread support from elected officials and law enforcement groups in the days and weeks leading up to Nov. 3.
Attorney General Mike Hunter, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado voiced their opposition to State Question 805 during an Oct. 27 news conference. The next day, Oklahoma County Sheriff Candidates Wayland Cubit and Tommie Johnson III held a joint news conference to speak out against the state question.
“I am the first person who will fight for criminal justice reform, and criminal justice reform needs to happen so desperately,” said Johnson, a Republican who was elected Oklahoma County Sheriff on Tuesday night. “But I don’t want to do it if it puts public safety in jeopardy.”
Opponents of State Question 805 argued that a yes vote would have made it difficult to punish repeat offenders of domestic abuse, driving under the influence and other serious crimes not listed in Title 57, section 571 of the Oklahoma State Statutes as of Jan. 1. Supporters of 805 argued that courts would still be able to take prior criminal history into account and impose maximum sentences on repeat offenders.
Had State Question 805 been enacted as a constitutional amendment, it would have been difficult for the legislature to change the list of crimes eligible for sentence enhancement. Lawmakers would have been required to initiate their own state question and bring it before voters on an upcoming ballot.
Tricia Everest, co-founder of family justice center Palomar and chair of Oklahomans United Against 805, said lawmakers now have the freedom to pass criminal justice reform that adequately protects victims.
“Oklahomans are ready for responsible reform,” Everest said during a virtual news conference Tuesday night. “Kris Steele and the ACLU won’t dictate what it is.”
In a news release Tuesday night, Edwards said criminal justice reform advocates will now focus their attention on the next legislative session.
“Tonight, we hope that members of our legislature and the governor will live up to their word to take action to tackle our state’s extreme sentencing laws,” Edwards, the president of Yes on 805, said. “We have built a powerful bipartisan movement that will continue to fight for common-sense reforms in the months ahead. We demand the Oklahoma Legislature act on common-sense criminal justice reform this legislative session.”
Although its prison population has declined during the coronavirus pandemic, Oklahoma has one of the highest imprisonment rates in the U.S. A criminal justice task force report released in February 2017 during former Gov. Mary Fallin’s second term identified Oklahoma’s sentence enhancement laws as a contributor to prison overcrowding.
In 2016, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 780, a citizen-initiated ballot initiative that reclassified several drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The ballot initiative found support in rural and urban areas of the state.
Gallery: VoteCast post-election roundup
VoteCast post-election roundup
Biden got more votes than any candidate ever
That's mainly because overall voter turnout spiked this year, as an estimated 68.2% of the US electorate cast ballots. This chart is current as of Nov. 4, 2020, and will not update. Sources: AP Election Research Group; The American Presidency Project.
Police and pandemic expose racial differences
A summer of protests over racial inequality in policing exposed sharply divergent views on racism, while the coronavirus pandemic laid bare racial disparities in health care. Both affected how voters cast their ballots.
Biden voters almost universally said racism is a serious problem in U.S. society and in policing, including about 7 in 10 who called it “very” serious. A slim majority of Trump voters — who are overwhelming white — called racism a serious problem in U.S. society, and just under half said it was a serious problem in policing.
There also were sharply divergent experiences with the pandemic. About 4 in 10 Black voters and about 3 in 10 Latino voters said they lost a family member or close friend to the virus, while just about 1 in 10 white voters said the same.
Latino and Black voters also were more likely to lose household income because of the pandemic.
Those voters fall into Biden’s column, meaning his voters were somewhat more likely than Trump voters to say they’ve felt the impact in at least one of the ways the survey asked about, 73% to 62%.
Trump supporters distrust the vote-counting process
Trump for months has sought to sow doubts about vote-counting — especially of mail-in ballots, which take longer to count and tend to favor Democrats — claiming without evidence that the process was ripe for fraud and that Democrats would try to steal the election.
The survey suggest his voters were listening.
Trump supporters were more likely to distrust the vote-counting process, though voters for both candidates had their doubts. About 7 in 10 voters were confident that votes would be counted accurately, though only about a quarter of voters were “very confident." Almost 8 in 10 Biden voters were confident, compared with about 6 in 10 Trump supporters.
Trump voters felt more confident about another democratic institution that has already played a role in this year's election: the Supreme Court. The high court, along with lower courts, handled lawsuits in recent weeks about the count of mail-in ballots in several states. That was before conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett filled her seat on the Supreme Court after the Republican-controlled Senate sped through her confirmation just before the election.
About 9 in 10 Trump voters were at least somewhat confident in the high court to be fair and impartial in its decisions, compared with about half as many Biden voters.
We pretty much knew all along who'd get our vote
Longstanding partisan divides have defined the past four years, explaining why roughly three-quarters of voters said they’ve known all along who they were supporting in this election. VoteCast shows stark differences between Trump and Biden supporters — on the virus, the economy, even on football.
As U.S. coronavirus cases rise, claiming more than 232,000 lives, a majority of Biden voters — about 6 in 10 — said the pandemic was the most important issue facing the country. And Biden voters overwhelmingly said the federal government should prioritize limiting the spread of the virus — even if that damages the economy.
But Trump voters were more focused on the economy. About half of Trump voters called the economy and jobs the top issue facing the nation, while only 1 in 10 Biden voters named it most important.
The two groups did not agree on the state of the economy, either. Trump voters remain adamant that the economy is in good shape: About three-quarters call national economic conditions excellent or good. About 8 in 10 Biden voters call them not so good or poor.
Partisanship even seemed to cloud views on football among voters in many states, including Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. When the coronavirus threatened the Big Ten's college football season, Trump campaigned on ensuring the games would be played. Not surprisingly, across eight states, voters who approved of the Big Ten playing this year supported Trump over Biden. Those who saw it as a mistake were more likely to back Biden.
This survey's backers ranged from Fox News to NPR
AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for Fox News, NPR, PBS NewsHour, Univision News, USA Today Network, The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press.
The survey of 110,485 voters was conducted for eight days, concluding as polls closed. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The survey combines a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter files; self-identified registered voters using NORC’s probability based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population; and self-identified registered voters selected from nonprobability online panels. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 0.4 percentage points. Find more details about AP VoteCast’s methodology at https://ap.org/votecast.