OKLAHOMA CITY — Early voting turnout has been brisker than usual as hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans cast ballots ahead of Tuesday’s election.

“Early voting turnout is much higher than we’ve seen in our last few gubernatorial elections,” said Paul Ziriax, the state’s Election Board secretary.

Over 132,000 Oklahoma residents voted in person early, which is “really exciting,” he said. In addition, county election boards reported over 69,000 mail-in ballots had been returned as of early Monday afternoon.

Those mail-in ballot numbers are expected to increase because ballots may be returned by mail through 7 p.m. Tuesday. Monday also marked the deadline to hand-deliver mail-in ballots for those who still hadn’t mailed them.

In 2018, 107,000 Oklahomans voted in person, and 68,000 submitted mail-in ballots. In 2014, 44,000 voted in person and 26,000 by mail.

Oklahomans who requested a mail-in ballot, but did not use it, can still vote in person Tuesday at their local polling location.

As of Monday afternoon, nearly 9.1% of registered voters had already cast ballots. This election cycle also marked the first time Oklahoma lawmakers had offered in-person early voting on a Wednesday.

“I hope voters get up and vote,” Ziriax said. “I want every registered voter to go to their polls tomorrow. Just make sure you plan ahead. If there is heavy turnout in your precinct that could cause maybe a little bit of a wait.”

Tuesday’s ballot is headlined by the hotly contested gubernatorial race that features a faceoff between Republican incumbent Kevin Stitt and Democratic challenger Joy Hofmeister, Libertarian Natalie Bruno and independent Ervin Yen. The superintendent of public instruction race between Republican Ryan Walters and Democrat Jena Nelson has also garnered a lot of attention, as has the federal race for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat. That race has Democrat Kendra Horn vying against Republican Markwayne Mullin, Libertarian Robert Muphy and independent Ray Woods.

Ziriax said Tuesday’s ballot is a “very long ballot” that features multiple statewide races and legislative contests. The ballot also contains judicial contests, retention questions and local and county elections.

Ziriax urged all voters to double check their polling place location on the state’s voting portal before heading to vote Tuesday. Legislative redistricting may have changed polling locations for some Oklahomans.

In far southeast Oklahoma, last week’s severe weather has already complicated voting efforts. The storms leveled one polling location in Idabel, forcing election officials to move the precinct to a different church in town.

In Pickens, state emergency management officials said Monday that they were installing a generator to power a precinct that remained without electricity.

“The great news about Oklahoma is we use paper ballots, and you can still run an election whether the power’s out or not,” Ziriax said.

Ziriax said Oklahoma’s voting system, which relies on paper ballots, is safe and secure and has built-in protections that help detect and prevent tampering. Everybody uses the same voting devices, and the poll workers come from both parties. Also, Oklahoma’s voting devices don’t use wireless technology.

Ziriax warned Oklahomans to be aware that some people may try to spread “misinformation about elections” in an effort to disenfranchise certain voters.

“But even with the traditional type of misinformation, we continue to see misinformation and conspiracy theories related to elections that just are not accurate,” he said. “We want to encourage Oklahoma voters to be skeptical of claims you may hear, especially on social media. Just be cautious about what you're reading. There could be people who are attempting to manipulate you, or to try to affect you in an emotional way to doubt the outcome of an election.”

He urged people with questions to contact their local election officials, and if anyone spots any potential issues, report those immediately to election precinct workers.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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