- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma voters have the unique opportunity to weigh in on both of the state’s next U.S. senators this year, starting Thursday with early voting.

Several county election board secretaries reported slow but steady turnout on the first of three days of early in-person voting at all 77 offices.

“We’ve had 118 voters so far, and there’s another four or five in line,” Delaware County Election Board Secretary Dixie Smith reported just before 5 p.m. Thursday from the town of Jay in far northeast Oklahoma. “It’s so hard to predict who wants to come in and vote early and who needs to.”

It is the first time since statehood that both of Oklahoma’s U.S. Senate seats have been on the same ballot.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe is seeking re-election to a full-six-year term against Democrat Matt Silverstein and three independents. For the second Senate seat, Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford, Democratic nominee Connie Johnson and an independent are seeking to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who is resigning.

Early voting hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

“This was so easy, I might not vote at my precinct anymore,” said 62-year-old Mike Bailey of Choctaw, who voted early for the first time during his lunch break in Oklahoma City. “It was very convenient.”

At the Cleveland County Election Board in Norman, more than 700 voters had cast early ballots by 2 p.m. Thursday, and Secretary Bryant Rains said things were running smoothly.

“It’s just been a steady stream,” Rains said. “A lot of people have done their homework for this election.”

A second early-voting site has been set up to help ease congestion in the state’s three largest counties - Edmond’s Multi-Activity and Senior Center in Oklahoma County; Hardesty Regional Library in Tulsa County; and the Moore-Norman Technology Center in Cleveland County.

Besides the two U.S. Senate races, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin is seeking a second four-year term and faces challengers state Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, and two independents.

Four of Oklahoma’s five Republican-held U.S. House seats also are on the ballot. U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa did not draw an opponent. U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, Frank Lucas and Markwayne Mullin all are heavy favorites.

The race for Lankford’s open U.S. House seat in the Oklahoma City area features Republican former state Sen. Steve Russell against Democratic state Sen. Al McAffrey and three independents.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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