Registered Republicans have won 72% of school board seats in Oklahoma this year while registered Democrats won 24%.
There were 556 school board seats up for election in Oklahoma this year. After the April 4 election, registered Republicans won 401 seats (72%), registered Democrats 131 (24%), and registered independents or minor party candidates won 24 (4%).
Oklahoma’s school board elections are officially nonpartisan, meaning candidates appear on the ballot without any party labels. However, it is also one of 11 states that make its file of registered voters publicly available at no cost — and pairing candidate filing information with publicly-available data helps match candidates with voters in the state’s voter file, creating full picture of the partisanship breakdown across the state.
This comes with a few caveats. The most important: many people may register to vote with one party but later find themselves more aligned with another without officially switching their registration status. This means a registered Republican in this report might agree more with policies supported by the Democratic Party or vice versa.
Still, this level of research can provide additional insights into these school board elections, which tend to fly beneath the radar.
The data revealed that:
- There were 439 uncontested elections, representing 79.0% of all seats up for election. Oklahoma is unique in that uncontested elections are canceled, meaning they never appear on the ballot. For 425 of these seats, only one candidate ran. For the other 14, there was a contest in the February primaries, but one candidate won more than 50% of the vote, winning outright and canceling the April general election.
- 76 elections were intra-party, meaning they featured candidates registered with the same political party.
- Of the 556 seats up for election, 41 (7%) were contested between candidates registered with different political parties.
- Registered Republicans won 72% of all uncontested elections and 93% of all intra-party. Registered Democrats won 54% of all contested elections.
The chart below shows the overall total in terms of seats won by party registration status as well as breakdowns by the different categories of election types:
Voters in 110 districts (22% of those holding elections) elected only registered Democrats compared to those in 341 districts (70%) that elected only registered Republicans.
Voters in 18 districts (4%) elected candidates with different party affiliations, and voters in 21 districts (4%) elected only independents or minor party candidates.
Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell (R), and Supt. Of Public Instruction Ryan Walters (R) all endorsed Jared Buswell, who was challenging an incumbent in the Tulsa School District. Walters also endorsed Julie Bentley, who was running in the nearby Bixby School District.
Commission of Labor Leslie Osborn (R) endorsed incumbent Judy Mullen Hopper in the Putnam School District.
Buswell and Bixby lost their respective elections. Mullen Hopper won.
Before last year, it was uncommon to see state executive officials weigh in on school board races. In summer 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) endorsed a slate of school board candidates.
Additionally, candidates for state executive offices — like DeSantis’ opponent Charlie Crist (D) and Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch (R) — also issuing endorsements in school board races.
Now, officials in other states are following the 2022 example.
In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) recently endorsed two incumbents in a May school board election, both of whom lost.
And earlier this year in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) donated $500,000 to the state’s Democratic Party. According to the Daily Herald, these funds were meant to oppose candidates running for school board seats that “Democrats fear could be elected without much of a fight.”
Nearly half of all incumbents in contested elections lost
The large number of uncontested elections — 439, or 79% — meant there was less activity in Oklahoma’s school board elections than is typically seen in other states.
That extends to the number of incumbents defeated. Overall, 447 incumbents ran for re-election (80%), of which 410 (92%) won and 37 (8%) lost.
That overall loss rate is well below the average of 16% seen across school board elections nationwide over the past five years.
But 82% of those incumbents who ran for re-election were unopposed in the general election, more than double the 36% rate of unopposed incumbents usually seen.
Produced in association with Ballotpedia
Edited by Sterling Creighton Beard and Alberto Arellano