Unsolicited absentee ballots leave Oklahoma voters scratching their heads

In Your Corner
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OKLAHOMA CITY - Sharon Triplet plans to cast her vote November 6 and not a day sooner.

“I was kind of concerned this was some kind of scam getting me to vote early,” she said.

Tens of thousands of registered voters in our state received unsolicited applications for absentee ballots in the mail.

Triplet's was already filled out with her personal information.

“[It had] my name and address, my home,” she said.

It’s not that big of deal because your name, address, party affiliation and how often you vote is public information.

Oklahoma City University political science professor and registered Democrat voter Dr. Richard Johnson also got an unsolicited application.

“The first thing I look at is return address, which is Springfield, Missouri, which is a very socially conservative area, so I'm thinking this is something Republican oriented or from a conservative group,” he said.

We alerted the Oklahoma State Election Board.

“It's certainly something the election board wouldn't do,” said Oklahoma State Election Board secretary Paul Ziriax.

It's not against the law either.

The absentee ballot applications are the real thing, the same forms you get from the state. 

“Most of the phone calls we're receiving here are just questioning ‘Who is this group? How did they get my information?’” Ziriax said.

We know the mailing is from a group called the Center for Voter Information, but they're not based in Missouri.

Rather, CVI is a tax-exempt 501c4 non-profit known as a social welfare group out of Washington DC.

CVI’s program director told us they are a "non-partisan organization with a mission to increase civic engagement among people of color, unmarried women and millennials."

While they claim to be non-partisan, according to Federal Election Commission filings, they've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting Democrats and opposing Republican U.S. House and Senate candidates.

Back in 2010, when the group went by the name Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund, they paid for an ad in a Colorado U.S. Senate race and spent close to $1 million targeting the Republican nominee.

“There are all these entities now, whether they are Super PACS or something else that have very innocuous sounding names,” Johnson said.

Like Super PACS, social welfare groups like CVI can try to influence elections, although social welfare groups can't spend the majority of their money on anything related to politics. 

Another big difference is Super PACS must disclose their donors to the public, while social welfare groups can keep the names of their donors secret.

CVI’s spokesperson told the In Your Corner team they occasionally issue messaging favoring or opposing particular candidates of different party persuasions and the mailings they sent voters in our state were intended to encourage Oklahomans, regardless of party preference, to vote in the crucial November elections.

CVI makes it clear in their letter they are not affiliated with state or local election officials.

The letter comes with a paid self-addressed envelope and asks voters to send the application to your county election board.  

The In Your Corner bottom line, if you get one of the applications in the mail, have concerns and still want to apply for an absentee ballot, contact the Oklahoma State Election Board.

CVI also tells the In Your Corner team they made it a point to provide their forms to the Oklahoma State Election Board prior to the mailing going out.

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