From Bullets to Ballots

From Bullets to Ballots - June 7, 2015

State Representative David Perryman

The American Revolution ended when the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, the date that the colonists officially realized independence from Great Britain. The declaration made seven years earlier was but words until sealed with the blood of men ultimately purchasing the transfer of power from the monarchy to the people of this new nation.

Significantly, for more than 200 years since that Treaty, peaceful transfers of power routinely occur. The first was on March 4, 1801 when Thomas Jefferson became President after an election that is often called the Revolution of 1800.

Twelve years of Federalist control had deeply divided the nation and distrust abounded. The young country was at a critical juncture as both sides honestly believed that the fundamental principles of democracy were at stake. Some years later, Jefferson wrote that “the election of 1800 was a revolution in the principles of our government which was every bit as real as that of 1776 was in form.”

America holds the record for years of uninterrupted peaceful transfers of power and that record will continue so long as our society honors the rule of law and engages in the political process. Unfortunately, millions of men and women fail to see the connection between their duty to be an informed, active voter and the duty of an American Revolutionary Patriot to take up arms against the British Crown.

What would the colonists’ chance of victory been if less than 3 of every 10 able bodied men had rallied for America’s independence? In the November 2014 Governor’s election only 29% of Oklahoma’s eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.

Today, less than two-thirds of Oklahoma’s eligible voters are even registered. According to State Election Board statistics, in January 2005, more than 2.1 million people were registered to vote.  Ten years later and about 10 percent more residents, 119,280 fewer Oklahomans were registered to vote than in 2005.

Oklahoma is not alone. Voter registration and turnout are at alarming lows across the country and many factors are to blame. Some, such as campaign finance reform and unlimited corporate money, must be resolved on the federal level. 

But, at the State level, Oklahoma’s SB 313 that allows eligible citizens to register to vote online will soon become law. Other reforms by other states deserve attention.

New Mexico is one of a handful of states that provide Voter Convenience Centers allowing voters to cast ballots at fairs, shopping malls and other high traffic areas. Washington, Oregon and Colorado all conduct elections by mail. States are examining ways to eliminate long lines and confusing ballots.

The bullets of the Revolutionary War were replaced with ballots. We rightfully thank those who protect us from foreign powers, but when it comes to voter apathy, perhaps the poignant words of Walt Kelly’s Pogo fit best, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

Questions or comments, call 405-557-7401 or email David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.