Election official requests probe of letters sent to voters

Wednesday, November 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The state Attorney General's Office will decide whether an investigation is warranted into letters sent by a political consultant to some Oklahoma voters.

State Election Board Secretary Lance Ward requested the investigation. He said he also plans to ask U.S. Attorney Steve Lewis to look into the matter.

The letters asked voters to update their registrations, and Ward said the timing could confuse some people into not voting. He said voters do not have to be registered at their current residence to be eligible to vote.

``If I am a candidate and want to help voters, truly help voters, then I would identify myself and take credit,'' Ward said. ``This was disguised to look like an official document. I believe there is a strong possibility both state and federal felonies could be involved.''

Jim Burdge, a Tulsa political consultant representing mostly Republican candidates, said he provided the letters as a ``public service'' to get voters registered in their residential districts.

Burdge would not give out the names of his clients.

``There is nothing sinister about it,'' Burdge said. ``The attempt here is to get accurate voter information. It is to everyone's advantage to have people registered at their residence and not some other district.''

Hundreds of voters across Oklahoma received the letters a day or two before the registration deadline for the Nov. 7 general election.

The envelopes bore the state seal in place of a return address and the words ``Voter Registration Enclosed'' were printed across the bottom. An enclosed letter told voters that an address change was required and that a voter application was included.

Officials in the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office have stated no crime occurred.

District Attorney Tim Harris reviewed the letters and directed further investigation. He is awaiting reports from the sheriff's office before making a decision about possible criminal charges.

He said he used information directly from the Internet site of the Tulsa County Election Board. He said the letters were sent to all voters identified as having moved _ including Democrats, independents and Republicans.

Burdge said he did not personally mail any of the letters, but provided copies to volunteers working on at least 17 campaigns since March. He did not know how many were sent.

``It was never stated as being from the election board,'' Burdge said. ``Yes, it had the state seal on it. That got people to open the letter. There was nothing in there that says they can't vote or shouldn't vote. It is not intimidating.''

The state Attorney General's Office is reviewing Ward's request to determine if an investigation is warranted, spokesman Charlie Price said.