Voters in Scott and Mississippi counties confused by mailings

Monday, July 30, 2012

BENTON, Mo. -- Junk mail urging residents to register to vote is causing confusion among those who have already registered, according to area election officials, while those responsible for the mailings say the results are worth it.

Scott County clerk Rita Milam said her office has received numerous calls regarding voter registration cards received in the mail by county residents.

Some residents are reporting the cards include the county clerk's or the Missouri Secretary of State's return address, Milam said, which leads them to believe they are coming from those election authorities.

"If you receive a card from the Voter Participation Center, please destroy it," Milam said. "They are a third-party group that purchases lists of names and addresses from companies that you may or may not have done business with. I am not sure what companies they purchase this information from but I do know that it is not from us and we have no control over them."

Junior DeLay, county clerk for Mississippi County, said his office's registrar of voters, Emily Pullen, is dealing with the same issue.

"She is getting calls constantly from people asking if they are still registered," DeLay said. "[Callers] say they are getting these things in the mail but they aren't saying where they are from. She said she has got lots of calls from people who think they are registered to vote and then they get one of these registration cards in the mail."

Election authorities across the state are having similar experiences.

"It's a mess is what it is," Milam said. "It's confusing people all over the state; everybody's getting complaints about it."

"We've definitely heard of people reporting issues with those through the media and people calling to report problems as well," said Ryan Hobart, communications director for the Missouri Secretary of State's office.

The Voter Participation Center appears to be the source for most of these mailings.

"That's the main one," Hobart said.

According to an emailed response from VPC's public relations department, voter registration applications were sent to 138,440 potentially unregistered residents in Missouri during June.

"We do not want to overburden election administrators whose resources are stretched thin, but we cannot abandon our efforts at civic engagement and a process that we know does work effectively to get voters registered," the VPC said in the emailed response. "We understand that when citizens call in to ask questions about our mailing it can be time consuming. We know there are costs and benefits to doing direct mailings of voter registration applications. But we believe that the administrative issues associated with the mailings are a small price to pay to ensure that more citizens participate in the democratic process."

The VPC said that as of Tuesday, 10,557 state residents have returned completed voter registration forms as a result of their June mailing.

"This is a response rate of 7.6 percent which is an extraordinary return rate for direct mail," the VPC noted.

What isn't clear is how many of those were already registered.

"Before doing anything with that piece of paper, call the county clerk's office or call the Secretary of State's office to verify your registration status," Hobart said. "The county clerk's office would be the best place to go to."

The VPC said it has taken "extraordinary steps to ensure the accuracy and integrity of our mailing lists" and that: "Imperfections in the VPC vendors' lists -- while regrettable and unfortunate -- should not be the reason or the excuse to call an entire process that is working into question."

For her part, Milam just wants voters in her county to know she isn't responsible for the confusion.

"I am sorry for the inconvenience that this has caused some people, but as I said, I can't control third-party groups," she said. "If you have received a voter identification card from my office then you are registered to vote."

Milam reminded registered voters to notify her office of any address change or name change to voter registration.

"If you have not received a card from us and you feel you are a registered voter, then please notify us immediately," she urged.

Scott County residents who need additional information can contact Milam's office by calling 573-545-3549.

In Mississippi County, residents can reach the County Clerk's office at 573-683-2146, extension 223.

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