The Norman Transcript

April 6, 2013

Despite big campaign spending, city elections suffer low turnout

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Despite the expenditure of well over $200,000 on city election campaigns, the voter turnout for the April 2 city vote was lower than candidates had hoped.

Less than 18 percent of eligible, registered voters cast ballots in the Norman mayor’s race this week, according to analysis by the Cleveland County Election Board. Numbers also indicate that the highest voter turnout and strongest support for mayoral challenger Tom Sherman came from Ward 3.

The Cleveland County Election Board certified the election at 5 p.m. Friday. A dozen additional provisional ballots were accepted but did not affect the outcome of any of the races, Cleveland County Election Board Secretary Jim Williams said. Those ballots are not included in the following analysis of the election.

Williams said there were 62,961 eligible voters in the Norman mayoral race. Of those, 10,908 — 17.33 percent — voted. Slightly fewer voters cast ballots in the hotel/motel tax proposition.

While the tax proposition carried with a high margin, winning with 8,397 “yes” votes to 2,462 against, the total 10,859 votes cast is even lower than the number who voted for mayor.

The three-way mayoral race was dominated by incumbent Cindy Rosenthal who garnered 5,898 votes with challengers Tom Sherman, 4,050 votes, and David Kempf 928 votes far enough behind to avoid a runoff.

Avoiding that runoff saved the city a nice chunk of change.

“Each citywide election costs us between $26,000 and $30,000,” said Norman City Clerk Brenda Hall. “The only variable is the ballot printing cost.”

In addition to ballots there are fees involved with each election. Combining city elections with county, state, federal and other elections does help curb the amount each entity must pay.

In Ward 3, ineligible candidate Benjamin Carter garnered 335 votes. Incumbent Robert Castleberry won that race with 1,528 votes for a total of 1,863 votes cast.

The worst turnout was in precinct 13 with 38 out of 2,010 voters casting ballots in the mayoral race. That precinct may have a high percentage of student voters. The precinct supports Ward 7 and votes at the Cross Center’s main building on the OU campus at 1600 Jenkins Ave. In the Ward 7 city council race, only 35 votes were cast at precinct 13.

In the 2012 city elections, 1,238 people cast ballots in the Ward 4 city council race. Ward 4 is traditionally a high turnout race. Ward 3 turnout, despite pouring rain, topped that, as did voting in Ward 5.

Hall said she believed the election was the best turnout Ward 3 has seen.

Ward 3’s Precinct 27, which votes at Brookhaven Baptist Church, 4301 Country Club Terrace, had the highest percentage of voter turnout at 29.44 percent of the 2,500 eligible voters casting 736 ballots in the mayor’s race. Precinct 27 was one of five precincts Sherman won.

Sherman carried precincts 27, 35, 53, 73 and 91. Of those, 27, 53 and 73 are in Ward 3.

Ward 5 also had decent numbers with 1,385 votes cast. Incumbent Dave Spaulding, 583 votes, lost to challenger Lynne Miller, 802 votes, in that ward.

Ward 7 was the closest city ward race with Stephen Tyler Holman winning 218 votes to incumbent Linda Lockett’s 191 votes. With only 409 total votes cast in the Ward 7 race, it was the lowest Norman ward turnout overall.

Ward 1 also had low turnout with incumbent Roger Gallagher, 289 votes, falling to challenger Greg Heiple, 425 votes, for a total 714 votes cast in that ward.

With the dust settled on the race, two official ethics complaints have been filed, one directly related to the election and both leveled at Council member Tom Kovach who served as a professional consultant for Sherman during the election.

A complaint filed by Norman resident Mary Francis alleges that Kovach violated the city’s ethics code forbidding city council members from using their offices to endorse or oppose another city candidate. Kovach maintains his professional services, which were paid for out of campaign funds and reported as required, do not constitute an endorsement or a use of his office to promote another candidate.

An additional ethics complaint was filed by Ben Alpers and alleges that Kovach violated executive session protections by alerting the press to the existence of a memo written by the mayor.

The memo was written outside of executive session but referred to the session. Kovach told the Transcript, he believes it may have violated open records laws.

While the open records issue is not directly connected to the election, some supporters of the mayor have made it clear they believe revealing the memo’s existence was a political ploy on the part of Kovach.

Hall said neither of these complaints fall under the purview of the Election Commission. The complaints have been given to city attorney Jeff Bryant.

“He (Bryant) is taking them very seriously and will investigate,” Hall said.

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