Election board letters seek 911 updates

KEVIN HARVISON | Staff photoPittsburg County Election Board Secretary Cathy Thornton shows a letter similar to the ones sent to approximately 2,400 registered voters in the county, asking for an information update to include their current 911 address.

Approximately 2,400 letters have been mailed to registered voters in Pittsburg County, asking them to update their voter registrations and to fill out new voter registration forms to include their official 911 address.

That's puzzled some recipients — because the letters from the election board requesting the updated information were mailed to their current 911 address in the first place.

If the election board already has the 911 address — as evidenced by the address written on the envelope mailed to the recipients from the election board office — then what is the reason for asking already-registered voters to complete the new forms?

It's part of an effort to update the election board's files, said Pittsburg County Election Board Secretary Cathy Thornton.

Thornton said there are 26,118 registered voters in Pittsburg County, with the letters sent out to approximately 2,400 of them. Most of the letters were sent to those living in rural parts of the county.

The reason dates back to when a number of county residents still had addresses identified by rural routes or highway contract routes.

"When they registered to vote, it was by section, township and range," Thornton said, referring to the legal descriptions commonly used by many rural voters when they first registered to vote. At the time, that was the information requested by the election board.

Things began to change when the county moved to a 911 emergency response system, which required naming most of the roads in the county. In many instances, the name of the address changed — even if the voter had not moved and continued to live in the same physical residence on the same property.

Thornton said that has led to difficulties in the election board reaching some voters by mail. 

"On some of the old routes, it comes back 'return to sender,'" Thornton said. Having the updated 911 location will also help election workers in determining in which precinct a voter should be casting a ballot.

Thornton said that receiving a letter from the county election from the county election board requesting the information update and a request to fill out a new voter registration form does not mean that the voter has been dropped from the rolls.  

"They are still registered voters," Thornton said, "We just don't have the most current information."

How did the election board get the current 911 addresses where many of the letters seeking the updated information were mailed?

Thornton said election board workers obtained the current 911 addresses in a number of instances from the Pittsburg County treasurer's office. They then mailed the letters, hoping they would go to the intended recipients. Thornton noted many people make sure the treasurer's office has their current address, because that's the address where ad valorem property tax statements are mailed.

Sometimes voters do not go to the same lengths to contact the election board, Thornton said.

However, even if the election board was able to obtain the correct 911 addresses from the treasurer's office, it does not give election workers the right to change information on individuals' voter registration forms. That must be done by the voters, themselves.

"We can't just go on the computer and change it," Thornton said.

 Replies from voters can be mailed to the Oklahoma State Election Board, to the Pittsburg County Election Board or can be dropped off in-person at the county election board offices in McAlester. A self-addressed envelope to the state election board has been included in the letters, but postage costs have not been included, leaving it up to voters to provide the necessary postage.

So far, county election board workers have been pleased with the response.

"We had about 100 come in yesterday and there are people coming in daily and dropping them off," Assistant Pittsburg County Election Board Secretary Tonya Barnes said Tuesday. 

Letters were addressed to "Dear Voter" and include the following information:

"The County Election Board is currently working on a project to update its records and obtain more precise address information for all voters," the letter states. It also relates that the county election board determined the voter's precinct by section, township and range, based on information the voter provided at the time.

"If you could provide us with your 911 address we could better determine the location of your residence," the letter continues. Recipients are asked to complete the new voter registration application sent to them and to return it to either the county election board office or to the Oklahoma State Election Board.

Anyone with questions can contact the Pittsburg County Election Board office at 918-423-3877.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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