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Ginnie Graham: Think global, vote local

Ginnie Graham: Think global, vote local

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Bixby precinct

Voters collect their ballots at Bixby North Elementary on June 30, 2020.

Like most Americans, I knew my presidential choice quite a while ago with the information overload coming from national sources.

The races and questions further down the ballot, however, took more time and thought. These are the ones affecting my life most.

The president doesn’t decide the school start time for my kids, city streets for repairs, budget for prisons, water rates, funding for county parks or whether to put people in jail for painting a street.

Those choices are made by school boards, mayors, city councils, county commissioners, state lawmakers, district attorneys, judges and sheriffs.

These local and state officials are the ones to return my email or calls (or they should). They are the ones coming to my door asking for a vote.

They live in our neighborhoods, go to the same restaurants and attend schools and faith institutions we all know. They fill elected offices that directly shape my day and family budget. They set the priorities for our schools, cities and state.

When I vote, the more local the race, the more care I use in shading the box.

Simply, I love voting.

I registered on my 18th birthday, voted absentee through college and usually take my kids with me to the polls (when not in a pandemic).

Never have I used the antiquated straight-party option, even though 40% of Oklahomans did so in 2018. It’s a passive approach to democracy that puts power in the hands of political parties, not people.

Instead, I consider each candidate, and question, on their individual merit.

I’m not alone. Details of the last couple of presidential elections show some Oklahoma voters opted against choosing a commander in chief but turned out for someone local.

In 2016, there were 13 counties that had a down-ballot race attracting more voters than the top of the ticket. That year, Sen. James Lankford received more votes (980,892) than the eventual presidential winner, Donald Trump (949,136).

Usually, the more popular secondary races were for the U.S. Senate race or a U.S. House race, carried by congressmen Tom Cole, Frank Lucas and Markwayne Mullin.

For comparison, the 2012 election had six counties with more voters interested in a race other than the U.S. president. Four of those — Coal, Jefferson, Noble and Sequoyah — attracted more voters to their county’s sheriff race.

Adair County voters cast more ballots for their next U.S. House and state House representatives than president. In Ellis County, seven more votes were cast for the U.S. House candidates than the presidential choices.

Cynically, it could be that national politics are turning more people away. Optimistically, could be more people taking local elections seriously.

Recently, Oklahoma state questions have been a draw.

No one doubts that the question to approve medical marijuana brought out many of the 892,758 voters for the June 2018 primary. That’s an unheard turnout for a primary. On some ballots, that was all a voter cared about.

This year’s two state questions don’t have quite that draw. They reflect ongoing efforts to reform criminal justice policies and bolster health care for Medicaid expansion, which was previously approved in a state question.

Voters will decide whether nonviolent criminals should have sentences enhanced for past nonviolent crimes and if the 1990s-era tobacco settlement funds should shift part of its earnings to the state’s Medicaid costs.

Even the Oklahoma judge retention ballot serves as a reminder for the nomination process. Oklahoma’s state judge selection system is much better than the U.S. Supreme Court nomination drama.

The political appointment only comes after going through a nonpartisan judicial nomination commission of attorneys and ordinary citizens from across the state. Then, voters can choose to retain them after their term.

I read each name as I vote. It’s the least a voter can do when choosing a state official.

With fewer local newspapers and sources, national news gets more air time in homes nowadays. It takes up too much room.

It’s good to consider national and international affairs, to care about the big-picture of our country and role in the world.

But don’t ignore or shortchange what’s happening in our backyards.

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Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376

Twitter: @GinnieGraham

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