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Republicans Worried Voter Fraud Could Be Happening In Montana

Several people in Park, Missoula and Silver Bow counties contacted the police or county election officials earlier this week about people offering to deliver ballots.
Several people in Park, Missoula and Silver Bow counties contacted the police or county election officials earlier this week about people offering to deliver ballots.

This election cycle, Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump is talking a lot about voter fraud and an election he says is “rigged.”

Now, Republicans in Montana are worried it’s happening here, in the form of people offering to deliver absentee ballots for convenience or to help voters avoid the cost of postage, but not actually turning those ballots in.

Chairman of the Republican Party Jeff Essmann says, “This has raised concerns that ballots that weren't voted in the way the Democratic staffer liked would not be delivered.”

While it’s not illegal to deliver a ballot for someone else - spouses do it all the time - most election officials say it’s best to mail your own absentee ballot or personally deliver it.

Several people in Park, Missoula and Silver Bow counties contacted the police or county election officials earlier this week about people offering to deliver ballots. At least one voter reportedly said the person offering to deliver their ballot also interviewed them about it.

Essmann says Democrats are behind it.

“The Democrats have engaged in ballot collection. The Republican party have never engaged in ballot collection and we're not doing so now,” Essam says.

The Montana Republican Party launched a hotline on Oct. 20 to check ballot statuses on behalf of absentee voters. Essmann says they’ve received no responses so far.

Montana’s Democratic party says they have had people offering to deliver voters’ ballots.

Election officials in Park and Missoula counties have only heard of two people handing their ballots over to the people who offered to deliver them, and who didn’t identify with any group. A woman in Park County called the election office on Wednesday; her ballot hadn’t been received as of Thursday morning. Election officials in Missoula County told another caller on Monday to check the status of their ballot online and don’t know whether it had been received. They said an unidentified person did deliver about 100 ballots on Oct. 19.

Aggressive ‘get out the vote’ measures, like delivering ballots, or driving voters to the polls, aren’t new in Montana. Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, says this is really common.

“It's not only done by the Democratic party. It’s done by other organizations. It's done across the board,” she says.

We’re hearing about it this year, she says, because of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

“It's funny because the only time this has come up is because Donald Trump and Trump claiming that in this country, people steal and do something that is rigged as he calls it,” Keenan says. “That is what’s wrong, and even the Republican party has called on him to stop that nonsense.”

Keenan says Democratic party volunteers who collect ballots are given a protocol to follow and are “strictly forbidden” from asking voters who they chose on their ballots. She adds that delivering ballots is just one way Democrats are making sure all Montanans can vote.

University of Montana Journalism Professor Lee Banville, author of a forthcoming encyclopedia of 21st century politics, says handing over ballots to someone outside an election office or the postal service introduces doubt.

“The fact that it's entering this sort of black box for a period of time and then coming out at the elections office is worth asking questions about,” he says.

And, Banville says, as many states are trying new methods of making voting easier, like encouraging early voting, there’s also fear that voter fraud will become easier. However, “What we’ve seen is, again and again, despite these concerns, they really haven’t equated to the expansion in the amount of fraud that occurs in elections,” he says.

Banville says Montana has some of the strongest anti-corruption voting laws in the country, and there hasn’t been any evidence of voter fraud in recent elections.

If you’re voting by absentee ballot, you can mail or deliver your ballot to your county election office. You can also track if it’s been delivered on a website maintained by the Montana Secretary of State’s Office. All ballots must be  received by 8:00 p.m. on election day, Nov. 8.

The Republican party has also set up an email address where voters can report fraud complaints: checkmyballot@mtgop.org

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