Legislators Eyeing Ways to Extend Early Voting

After voters waited two or more hours to cast early ballots in November,  some  lawmakers are looking to extend the state’s early-voting period.

State legislators have advanced a bill to add a fourth in-person early voting day in presidential election years.

The proposal would allow for early voting, also known as absentee in-person, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. the Wednesday before the election in addition to the current early voting days on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday prior to the election.

State House Bill 2663 by State House  Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols and State Senate Majority Floor Leader Kim David cleared the Oklahoma House of Representatives last week and advances to the State Senate.

At one early voting location in Oklahoma City, voters had a 3½-hour wait to cast their early ballots in November, said State Rep. Echols (Rep., Oklahoma City).

“We need to find a way to make it easier to vote in that regard,” he said in a recent legislative committee hearing.

On the State House floor last week, State Rep. Echols called the lines at early voting sites, which are usually located at county election boards, a “huge problem.” 

For higher turnout elections, more populous areas, such as Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland Counties typically open a second early voting site.

Oklahomans set a record for early, in-person voting during last year’s general election.

The State Election Board said 167,185 Oklahomans cast early ballots in person, topping the previous record of about 152,000 ballots cast.

Oklahoma League of Women Voters president Jan Largent said the group fully supports State HB 2663.

But citing Oklahoma’s low voter participation, Mrs. Largent said she’d like to see more additional days. 

“We’d like to see at least a week, but one day will help,” she said. 

“One day will help a lot with the long lines and give people more options.”

More than 40 states offer early voting options that range from three to 45 days.  The average length is 19 days, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The wait times ahead of the 2020 general election were especially long because of record voter turnout across the country, Mrs. Largent noted. 

Oklahoma’s severe ice storm that left many metro-area residents without power for days or weeks also seemed to spur more early voting.

Adding an extra day of early voting would cost the State Election Board and all county election boards partly due to the costs associated with hiring poll workers.

A fiscal analysis of the legislation estimates additional costs for the State Election Board would be about $40,000 per presidential election.  The added day would cost Oklahoma County about $34,000 and Tulsa County $20,000.

Saying he’s not interested in passing an “unfunded mandate,” State Rep. Echols said he’s working with other lawmakers to find state funding to cover the costs.

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