Vacant Seats Prompt Costly Special Elections

Tuesday, July 11th 2017, 10:17 pm
By: Grant Hermes

With three special elections underway on Tuesday, Oklahomans are paying for the second, third and fourth time to fill seats left empty by Republican lawmakers, with more than a half dozen more elections on the way. 

In all, seven seats were vacated this year. Three of those special elections are to replace former Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Tulsa), Sens. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) and Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City), who resigned in disgrace.

Three others, Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole) and Sens. Scott Martin (R-Norman) and Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) left their seats for private sector jobs. One was left vacant by the untimely death of Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow). 

"Certainly, seven vacancies to occur in an odd numbered year after a general election is quite a lot for us," state election board secretary Paul Ziriax said last month.

He said it was most anyone in his office could remember. Online records, which date back to 2000, indicate the same. 

According to the election board, the cost of a House special election costs between $12,000 and $28,000, depending on whether that race also has a primary.

In the Senate, costs range from $18,000 to $44,000. Only one special election so far did not have a primary.

In all, the total cost to taxpayers can stretch over $200,000. 

But, in a settlement last week, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission made a first of kind deal by making a lawmaker who's been forced to give up his seat pay for the cost of the special election. 

That lawmaker is Loveless. The former senator resigned after investigators discovered he spent more than $100,000 dollars on personal items like sports tickets, flowers and car repairs. In the settlement, he agreed to pay back that amount and pay $40,000 dollars for cost of his special election along with another $10,00 for the cost of the investigation. 

When asked if that's ever happened before, one official at the election board said forcing a lawmaker to pay for the special election they caused is "unheard of" and that it "isn't a bad idea."

However, the executive director of the OEC said in a statement the settlement isn’t an indication of future cases.

"The payment of the costs of the special election is not because Loveless resigned … and does not set a precedent for state officers who resign their elective office[s],"” OEC executive director Ashely Kemp said. 

For a look at when and where the special elections are being held, visit the election board website