About 500,000 individuals across the country received their "Official 1990 National Voter Data Card" a few weeks ago. The packet contained an address confirmation card that recipients were told "must be filled out and returned" along with "a processing check of at least $9."

One of the recipients, Nora Hartman of Sycamore, Ill., at first thought the packet contained a genuine voter registration card. "I had it all made out, it looked so official," she said yesterday. "But then I figured if you have to spend $9 to vote, that's crazy. I thought maybe something was fishy."

So the 74-year-old widow, who said she has contributed to the Republican Party before, took the mailing to her county clerk and determined it was a fund-raising appeal by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

Terry Desmond, the Democratic clerk of DeKalb County, said he considered the GOP material "very misleading" and forwarded it to the state election board. Dan White, spokesman for the board, said his general counsel didn't believe the mailing violated Illinois election laws. But the board is likely to notify all county election officials "it's out there" so they can respond if there are other inquiries, the spokesman said.

Sharon Snyder, a spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission, said the agency has received about a dozen calls in the past week from election officials and recipients of the mailing who were "confused and concerned because they thought they had to pay to vote."

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said, "I thought we did away with the poll tax years ago. I think it's a very confusing, misleading, and inappropriate in terms of fund-raising."

Wendy M. DeMocker, communications director for the NRSC, said she doesn't think the direct mail piece is misleading. "I think it's very clearly a Republican fund-raising piece," she said. Reporters from Maine and Oklahoma have asked about the mailing, she said, but the committee hasn't received any complaints from recipients.

DeMocker noted that a "Dear Voter" letter in the package states the "voter data card" program "is being tested by Republicans to increase the voter turnout in key voting districts. By determining where to concentrate our get-out-the-vote efforts it could make the critical difference in winning Republican victories in upcoming elections . . . . "

"Your $9 will help finance this program," it added. In one place, voters are told to make checks payable to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In bigger print on the return mail envelope, it says the $9 processing check should be made out to "NRSC Voter Information Processing Center."

DeMocker compared the GOP appeal to a magazine drive that tells people they "must" subscribe today. "Fund-raising is a very competitive business," she said. "The language can be very direct.

"I think most people read these pieces very carefully," DeMocker said. "They want to know where their money is going and what it is used for." She added that the committee has a refund policy.

"If anyone was confused, we'd give their money back," she said. The committee "wants only good will attached to our fund-raising," she added.