Hillary? Bernie? Oklahoma Democrats ready for Independent input in primary election

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Voters have until Friday to register for the Mar. 1 primary elections, in which those with no party affiliation can have a say in the Democratic races.

The Oklahoma Democratic Party decided in November to open its primary to the state's more than 267,000 'Independent' voters.

"We felt it was important to give all voters the opportunity to have their voice heard," said spokeswoman Sarah Baker. "It brings a very diverse group of people and opinions together and, ultimately that is our biggest concern - that everybody is able to voice their opinion and use their voice at the ballot box."

It's the first time in history one of the state's major parties has opened its primary.

The state's Republicans told NewsChannel 4 in November it had no interest in doing the same.

"The Republican Party in Oklahoma is stronger than ever before in the 108 year history of our state," said Chairwoman Pam Pollard in a statement. "We support our Republican candidates being elected by registered Republicans. The Democrat Party opening their primary to Independents sends a clear message that they have lost the support of the Oklahoma voter."

Democrats have steadily lost registered voters since 1960, according to the State Elections Board.

More than 50 years ago, 82 percent of registered voters were Democrats.

Now, only 42 percent of registered voters are Democrats - about 832,000 in all.

By contrast, the Republicans now have more than 880,000 voters, which accounts for 44 percent of all registered.

The number of Independent voters has steadily risen to more than 14 percent of all registered.

"An argument can be made that a lot of Democrats are moving to the Republican party or no party," said John Wood, a UCO political science professor. "[This is] one of the ideas to really energize the Democratic party and get people to vote more Democratic if they're Independent."

Wood calls the move something of a political and social experiment, but he doesn't see much drawback.

If anything, he sees Independent voters staying with the party again in November, during the general election, though traditionally, independent voters are less likely to turn up at the polls.

"It's kind of a Hail Mary move to make a difference in this state," Wood said. "I think it's exciting. I'm a registered Independent, and I get to vote in the primary this time."

Baker dismissed the assertion that the Democrats were opening the primary for more "energy."

"It's not out of desperation," she said. "That's not the reason we did this, and that's not what we're necessarily counting on. We don't see it as a hindrance to our party or a detriment to the process. We consider ourselves the big tent party. We want to include everybody and allow everybody to make their opinions matter and make their opinions heard."

The deadline to register to vote or change party affiliation is Friday.

People can fill out forms at their County Election Board or local tag agency.

Forms are also available at post offices and libraries to be mailed in.

The state has set up a website to register voters and request absentee ballots.

The forms are valid so long as they are postmarked by Friday.