Ada residents want to know more about candidates and issues before each city election, and they need an unbiased source to supply that information.
That was one of the key findings to emerge from a recent survey of Ada’s registered voters, which was conducted by three political science students at East Central University.
Students Marsha Coyle, Will Irwin and Stephen Vines surveyed registered voters about whether they participated in the Ada City Council election in March. The survey was part of a research project focused on why people aren’t voting in local elections.
Coyle was surprised to learn that voters were hungry for more information about city issues, she said Wednesday.
“In other words, if we’re getting ready to vote on an extra penny sales tax to pay for roads and bridges, they want information about exactly which roads and bridges and how long it’s going to take and how much it costs,” she said. “If I vote for this, what happens? If I vote against it, what happens? That kind of thing.”
Having their say
The students started their project with an Internet-based survey, then supplemented it with a phone survey. They drew up a list of randomly selected Adans who were eligible to vote and had either a landline or a home phone number.
Participants were chosen from the Ada phone book and listed by ward, based on their home address. A polling service made the phone calls.
The polling service called 618 people, but only 37 completed the survey, according to a copy of Coyle’s report. Another 503 participants started the survey but did not finish it.
The students dipped into their own pockets to finance the project. They used Ada’s most recent city council election as a starting point, then compared that information with data from other Oklahoma cities of about the same size that used the same form of government.
The students had to meet a deadline, which affected the survey results, Coyle wrote in an essay describing the project. She added that participants’ response to the project was disappointing, partly because it was difficult to get people to complete the survey.
“With a response rate of 6 percent of those who received a phone call and an error rate of 18 percent, it wasn’t possible to accurately determine the meaning of the data with any feeling of confidence,” she wrote. “However, a comparison of the demographic characteristics from the survey with those available through the Census Bureau revealed that the sample may be an adequate reflection of the voting behavior and attitudes of Ada’s citizens.”
Coyle said Wednesday that participants rated several options for boosting turnout, including electronic voting, a lower voting age and a longer early-voting period. She had expected people to say that those options would increase turnout, but they surprised her.
“I thought maybe one of the other options, like vote by mail,” she said. “I thought older people would choose that one, but they really didn’t.”
Coyle said participants disliked the city’s at-large election system, in which all registered voters choose councilmen regardless of the candidate’s home district. She said participants favored a ward-based system, in which council members are elected by the voters in that district rather than by all voters.
Coyle said the students recommended steps the city could take to boost voter turnout, such as producing a pamphlet about specific issues and candidates on the ballot. She said that information would have to come from an unbiased source and appear three days before the election.
“I think if you distribute it earlier than three days ahead of time, people will forget,” she said. “So I think right about three days before election day is a good time to do that, like the first day of early voting.”
Other possibilities included changing the city’s method of choosing council members from at-large voting to a ward-based system. But city officials would have to take several steps to switch to a ward-based system, including amending the city charter.
Coyle said she hopes another group of students will use her research as a starting point for a bigger project, which would look at local voting patterns over five years or more. She added that she will still be enrolled at ECU in the spring of 2014, and she will help the next group of students pick up where she left off.
“I’ll be back,” she said. “It’s not over.”