Critics Say Tulsa County Not Doing Enough Outreach To Voters About Early Voting At ONEOK Field
Voting access proponents staged a press conference Tuesday, saying Tulsa County and the Tulsa County Election Board aren't doing enough to communicate that early voting will take place over three days at ONEOK Field this year due to COVID-19, instead of the traditional early voting locations at the Hardesty Regional Library and the Election Board building on North Denver.
"It's quite evident that the vast majority of people in our county do not know that they can't vote early at the places that they've been voting early at for years," said former Democratic state representative Eric Proctor.
"For me, it's a question of fairness and justice," Proctor said. "You should be notified if your voting place has changed."
State Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa), who organized the press conference at the offices of the Oklahoma Eagle, said she acknowledges the county has advertised the change in the traditional media and on social media, but that she thinks mailers should be sent to all registered voters.
"When you send direct mail to your address, that's coming straight into your home," Goodwin said. "You don't have to turn on the television. You don't have to have a favorite radio station. You don't have to happen to just be on Facebook, if you happen to have a computer."
"If you hear someone say, 'Well, you've got to be sleeping under a rock if you don't know that we've changed from the Election Board to [the] Drillers' stadium,' my response to that is: If you live under a rock, and that's a legal residence, there should be a piece of mail sent to that rock, so that everybody is educated and informed that we have a major change from the Tulsa County Election Board in in-person early voting," Goodwin said.
Charity Marcus, a Republican strategist, said the issue of voting access was bipartisan.
"It's very crucial that we make sure that every voter knows where they go, not only for our candidates, but just making sure people have access to voting and making sure we're not discouraging people from voting," Marcus said.
"I didn't know the polling place had changed until I got a phone call from my friend, and I'm quite surprised," said Heidi Contreras, a Republican voter from Tulsa County supporting the call for mailers to be sent out.
Goodwin said she had suggested federal CARES Act funding meant to support pandemic-related expenses could be used, as the change to ONEOK Field was ostensibly due to it being a safer, outdoor location.
In a statement, Devin Egan, Tulsa County's communications manager, said the county could, in theory, use CARES Act dollars for such a mail push.
"However, CARES Act dollars are also needed to stop people from getting evicted, to help people with food insecurity that is growing at a staggering rate and to help small businesses and employees who are struggling to survive due to circumstances not of their own making," Egan said. "CARES Act dollars are also needed now more than ever to support more testing and contract tracing for those who have been exposed to COVID-19. These are not simple issues nor do they have simple solutions.
"That said, the Tulsa County Election Board is overseen by the Oklahoma State Election Board and is therefore closer to a state entity than a County entity. That doesn’t mean that the Board of County Commissioners can’t help out, but it does mean that at the end of the day we don’t have a lot of weight to direct the Election Board on what they should or should not do in terms of how they operate and communicate."
Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith said Tuesday she had made a motion at a special meeting of the Board of County Commissioners last week to fund mailers, but that it did not receive a second from either of the other commissioners and thus did not receive a vote.
"My response to Regina Goodwin saying we're not doing enough, or that somebody's not doing enough, is rather lengthy," said Tulsa County Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman.
"We've sent out press releases to all the media weeks ago. It's been broadcast on every TV station multiple times. The Tulsa World, it's been on the front page multiple times. Almost every single radio station has covered it in an interview form," Freeman said.
"On top of that, I bought $25,000 worth of 60-second ads for the month of October on the radio to talk about it. It was announced at the mayor's press conference. It's featured on our website. It's featured on Tulsa County's website. It's featured on our Facebook page. I've sent letters and emails to all the North Tulsa pastors.
"We have expanded signage. We have maps showing how to get to ONEOK from the Election Board. We will have parking lot monitors to redirect voters from the Election Board to ONEOK if they should accidentally come here. Banners out in front of the Election Board announcing the change, and we have another press conference scheduled for next Monday," Freeman said.
"That's what we've done and plan to do," Freeman said.
Tulsa County voters will be able to cast their vote in-person at ONEOK Field on Oct. 29, 30, and 31. Voters with absentee ballots wishing to turn them in in-person will not be able to do so at the stadium and will have to return the ballot to the Election Board building. More information is available at the Tulsa County Election Board website.