Voter Turnout Could Be Affected by Terrorist Attacks

Sunday, September 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Both sides of the right-to-work campaign agree voter turnout likely will decide the election, but recent terrorist attacks on the East Coast could keep voters away from the polls, political experts say.

``It's going to be difficult to predict what will happen in the final days of the campaign because there's no precedent for evaluating an election under these circumstances,'' said Gary Copeland, director of the Carl Albert Center at the University of Oklahoma.

State Question 695 would prohibit labor contracts that requiring all employees of a particular company to pay union dues or fees. Voters will decide the issue in a Sept. 25 special election.

Supporters say right to work will bring more industry to the state and that competition for jobs will lead to higher pay. But opponents say such laws weaken unions and are unfair, since federal law requires them to represent all workers.

They also say right-to-work laws depress wages and reduce benefits.

Copeland said both sides must be careful not to anger voters with negative advertising.

``It's been a very acrimonious dialogue between the two sides with a lot of hostility and name-calling,'' he said. ``Having people calling each other liars because they interpret data differently might not sit will with voters right now. We're all hurting.''

Leroy Bridges, interim director of the Political Communication Center at OU, said most people are focused on the events unfolding from the attacks on New York and Washington.

``Most people aren't interested in doing business as usual,'' Bridges said. ``They are interested in this catastrophe, and I am not sure whether campaigning will get them interested in the election.''

But since voter turnout likely will decide the election, both sides made intense efforts to register voters. The deadline to register to vote in the election was Aug 31.

Chip Carter, a campaign manager for supporters of right to work, said his group had urged local supporters to register as many voters as possible but concedes it appears his opposition had more success.

Grace Hall, a communications director for opponents of right to work, said they established a door-to-door voter registration program focusing mainly on the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metropolitan areas.

Oklahoma State Election Board records show 1,962,878 voters were registered as of Aug. 7. By Sept. 13, the rolls had increased 22,000 voters to 1,984,689.

The numbers show a 166 percent increase in new registrations over average increase for three months and it appears much of it was due to SQ 695, said State Election Board Secretary Michael Clingman.

The voting rolls increased 35,000 to 2,186,654 from August to October before the 2000 elections. Clingman said that could provide perspective into the increase this year.

But 2000 was a presidential election year, when voter interest always peaks.