- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - With the number of registered independents on the rise, the Oklahoma Democratic Party is considering whether to open its traditionally closed primaries to independent voters.

New Democratic Party Chairman Mark Hammons said the proposal will be considered when the state party convention reconvenes on July 25 in Oklahoma City.

Hammons says the Democratic Party wants to focus on issues that matter to Oklahomans, regardless of party, and provide more opportunities for citizens to be active and involved in politics.

“Our view is that the more people we communicate with and the more input we get from voters in the state, the better job the party does and the better job our candidates do in representing Oklahomans,” said Hammons, an attorney from Yukon who was elected chairman last month. “By opening up the primaries, we have better and earlier direct contact with independent voters, and we believe that will help our candidates understand the needs of Oklahoma better.”

Oklahoma has traditionally had a closed-primary system, where only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in their respective primaries.

Brian Stalcup, who has been an independent since he first registered to vote when he was 18, said he welcomes the change.

“I think that’s great,” said Stalcup, now 37. “I don’t like identifying with just one party. I don’t like that identification, although I’ve struggled with not getting to participate as much in elections.”

But not all Democrats support the move. Calvin Rees, a longtime Democratic Party activist and a delegate to the state convention, said he believes opening the primary to independents could end up watering down the party’s message.

“I believe the Democratic Party is a party of individuals with the same ideas, and that we joined this organization to get together and elect people of the same mindset and not just let anybody vote in our primaries,” Rees said.

With about 261,000 registered independents, the group is the fastest growing in the state, increasing from about 8 percent in 2000 to more than 10 percent in 2005 to 13 percent this year. There are about 883,000 Democrats and 886,000 Republicans, according to the latest registration data from the Oklahoma Election Board.

Republicans last year surpassed Democrats in registration for the first time in state history, although the state has a long history of voting Republican, especially in federal elections. The state hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

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