- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The idea that next month’s elections could be rigged is a conspiracy theory comparable to the U.S. government hiding aliens in Rowell, New Mexico, Elvis Presley faking his death or the 1969 moon landing being a hoax, Montana’s secretary of state said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, a Democrat, sought to reassure voters that the state’s elections won’t be compromised after reports of stolen absentee ballots and people offering to deliver voters’ ballots for them in at least three counties.

But at times, McCulloch’s comments seemed more directed as a response to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statements that the elections could be rigged.

“If you want to spread theories about Elvis or Roswell or the moon landing that’s fine,” McCulloch said. “But don’t do it about elections. It’s shameful behavior that harms a great state.”

McCulloch said she was speaking only of Montana elections, though she acknowledged there have been no direct claims that the state’s election system might be compromised on Nov. 8. “I just wanted to address everything at once during this one press conference, sort of lay it all to rest,” she said.

Last week, Montana’s Republican Party chairman called on McCulloch to take action after voters in several counties reported that people offered to deliver their absentee ballots for them, and that at least one was working for the state’s Democratic Party. On Friday, Billings police said at least 10 people reported their absentee ballots had been taken from their mailboxes.

McCulloch said she is advising all absentee voters to deliver or mail their ballots themselves, and not to give them to anybody they don’t know. But she also warned the leaders of all political parties to halt what she called a “partisan outcry about election rigging and election fraud.”

“The long-term effect is dangerous because it undermines the confidence of the people who vote to elect all Montana’s officials,” she said.

University of Montana political scientist Rob Saldin said the problems reported with Montana’s absentee ballots are alarming and unusual, but relatively few. Those incidents are a far cry from Trump’s suggestion that the election system can’t be trusted, he said.

“That’s much different than a few private citizens swiping ballots off of mailboxes or some overzealous party workers taking ballots and then quizzing people over who they voted for,” Saldin said. “I think there’s absolutely no reason to think the integrity of our election system has been compromised.”

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