Candidate filing for Oklahoma’s 2020 elections began Wednesday, April 8, under what may be the most unusual circumstances in state history.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax encouraged all candidates to file their paperwork, along with the required filing fee or petition, by mail or delivery service.
Candidates who filed in-person were required to use a “drive through” in the Capitol parking lot to maintain social distancing protocols and minimize risks to Election Board personnel and candidates.
The election board offered to review candidates’ paperwork in the days prior to the filing to facilitate the overall process.
“This is not an ideal situation for either election officials or candidates,” Ziriax said. “But, with a little patience and a lot of precautions, we will get through the candidate filing period together.”
More than 200 candidates filed for office on Wednesday.
As political fortunes have shifted dramatically over the last 15 years, Republican primaries have often been where the toughest battles occur, and primary challengers can be a bigger threat to incumbent Republican lawmakers than a Democratic opponent.
A sizable number of GOP incumbents drew opponents on the first day of filing. Based on candidate websites and other public statements, many individuals challenging Republican incumbents in primaries are supporters of legislation to abolish abortion in Oklahoma.
Republican senators who drew primary challengers on the first day of filing included Sens. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair; Larry Boggs, R-McAlester; Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee; Roland Pederson, R-Burlington; Greg McCortney, R-Ada; Paul Rosino, R-Oklahoma City; and Paul Scott, R-Duncan.
Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove, did not file for reelection on day one, but if he does, he will also face a primary.
Incumbent Republican lawmakers in the House who drew opponents included Reps. Brad Boles, R-Marlow; Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle; Jim Grego, R-Wilburton; Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City; Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau; Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa; Gary Mize, R-Guthrie; Logan Phillips, R-Mounds; Randy Randleman, R-Eufaula; Cynthia Roe, R-Lindsay; David Smith, R-Arpelar; Marilyn Stark, R-Bethany; John Talley, R-Stillwater; and Mark Vancuren, R-Owasso.
One primary of interest may be LeFlore County-based House District 3 where Kiger, the incumbent, will face former Rep. Rick West, R-Heavener, who previously represented the same district.
West chose not to run for reelection in 2018, saying he “could not in good conscience continue to serve as a state representative. I fundamentally disagree with the direction the Republican caucus is headed inside the Capitol, and I have been disappointed in decisions that were made that I believe are detrimental to our state.”
The 200-plus candidates who filed for office on the first day of this year’s process represented less than half the 458 who filed on the first day in 2018. However, while the 2018 election cycle set a record for candidate filings, it also included most major statewide elected offices, such as governor, that are not up this year.
In the 2016 cycle, which is comparable to 2020, more than 400 candidates threw their hats into the ring over the total three-day filing period.
The 2020 candidate filing was a stark contrast with 2018’s process. That year, rather than face social distancing restrictions, candidates had to wade through thousands of teachers during a walkout and Capitol protests that coincided with candidate filing.
The 2020 filing period for federal, state, and legislative offices will continue through 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 10.