- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s secretary of state, responding to complaints of people offering to deliver voters’ absentee ballots for them, said Friday that residents should mail in or hand their ballots directly to their election office unless they know and trust the people who are handling them.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s comments come after voters in at least three counties reported that people offered to deliver their absentee ballots for them, and after remarks by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that the national election may be rigged.

On Friday, Billings police said at least 10 people called to report their absentee ballots had been taken from their mailboxes, the Billings Gazette reported. Crime prevention officer Tom Keightley said it wasn’t immediately clear whether the thefts were politically motivated or simply vandalism.

There is nothing illegal and nothing new about a voter handing his or her absentee ballot to another person for delivery, McCulloch said. Both Republicans and Democrats have been doing it for years, she said, as part of their get-out-the-vote efforts.

“We recommend that voters not give their ballots to someone other than the elector office unless it’s someone they’re confident in giving their ballots to,” McCulloch said. “We also recommend that they check the My Voter Page website to see whether their ballot has been received by the county office.”

Montana Republican Party Chairman Jeff Essmann has raised the question of whether ballots that are handed over to strangers are being tampered with or destroyed. He sent a letter to McCulloch asking her to produce a public-service announcement telling voters not to give their ballots to strangers.

Essmann wrote a second letter to Montana Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Keenan saying one of the people who offered to deliver a ballot was a working for the Democratic Party, and he asked her to end the practice.

“I would like them to explain what the need is for a third party to insert themselves between the voter and the ballot box,” he said.

The Democratic Party has said it occasionally delivers ballots on behalf of voters as allowed under state law, comparing the practice to giving people a ride to vote at the polls.

“We never have and never will tolerate any activity - from volunteers, staffers, independent organizations or the GOP - that interferes with voter privacy or fair elections,” party spokesman Jason Pitt said Friday.

Essmann denied that the Republican Party has ever offered to deliver voters’ ballots for them, and he said the concern is that tampered or destroyed ballots could affect the outcome in close races.

The party has set up a hotline for voters to call in reports of such ballot delivery offers. He added that Republicans also will deploy volunteers on Nov. 8 to election offices to observe officials as they verify the signatures of absentee ballots.

McCulloch said the integrity of Montana’s elections is not in question.

“Just because the Montana Republican Party is making accusations doesn’t change the fact that elections are run very well by county elections officials,” she said.


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