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Group says increased voter participation goal of targeted mailings

Residents of Oklahoma County take advantage of early voting opportunities at the county election board office on N. Lincoln Blvd., on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. [Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman archives]
Residents of Oklahoma County take advantage of early voting opportunities at the county election board office on N. Lincoln Blvd., on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. [Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman archives]

A nonprofit social welfare organization recently mailed out absentee ballot applications to 59,000 Oklahomans with the goal of increasing voter participation among groups that traditionally have had low voter turnouts.

African-Americans, Latinos, millennials and unmarried women were among groups targeted for the mass mailing by The Center for Voter Information.

"Voting is our most essential American right, and yet 40 million Americans who voted in 2016 likely won't cast a ballot in the 2018 midterms, said Lionel Dripps, program director for The Center for Voter Information.

"In Oklahoma, more than 37 percent of all eligible African Americans, Latinos, young people and unmarried women are not expected to vote in the midterms. We hope that our vote-by-mail applications will encourage as many Oklahomans as possible to vote in the crucial November elections."

Using mail to target demographic groups is not an exact science and many of the mailings went to individuals who would not fall within the targeted categories. Mail recipients were not limited to members of a particular political party.

The Center for Voter Information conferred with the Oklahoma State Election Board before sending out the mailings and election board spokesman Bryan Dean said the mailings appear to comply with all rules.

The mailings were a bit unusual — and may have made some privacy-sensitive potential voters uncomfortable — because the absentee ballot applications arrived in people's mailboxes with the recipients' names and addresses already typed on the forms. Some of the mailings also contained letters with graphs that compared each recipient's voting frequency record with the voting frequency of the average Oklahoma voter.

Officials with The Center for Voter Information said they used "data obtained from publicly available state voter files," and the voting frequency comparisons were "meant as a helpful guide to encourage participation in the election."

Having the name and address blanks already filled in on the absentee ballot application forms and the inclusion of postage paid envelopes made out to the local election board was consistent with the group's goal of making the process of requesting an absentee ballot as "fast and easy" as possible.

Doug Sanderson, Oklahoma County Election Board secretary, said his office has received thousands of absentee ballot applications, including many that used forms supplied by this group. He said his employees were preparing to mail out about 15,000 absentee ballots Friday.

More absentee ballots will be mailed out as additional applications come in, he said.

"I wouldn't know any way to gauge how its had an impact or not," he said. "We get thousands of applications. ... We occasionally have groups that do this, so it's not uncommon."

Pam Pollard, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, said she welcomes efforts by The Center for Voter Information to get more people out to vote, even though the demographic groups targeted by group's mailings have traditionally been more likely to vote Democrat than Republican.

"Overall, it's a good thing," Pollard said. "The more people that we have voting, I think the better our democracy is. ... I think it's always a good thing when we can get more people involved in the voting process. I personally believe the more voices that we hear from in any process makes it a stronger process."

Oklahoma Democratic Party officials did not return numerous calls seeking comment.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›