In the week since ballots were mailed to Yellowstone County voters, a handful of anecdotes have circulated around Billings about completed ballots being snatched from residential mailboxes.
Rich Werbelow lives on the West End and found earlier this week that both his and his wife's ballots had been grabbed.
"They were removed from my mailbox and thrown down the street," he said.
His neighbor found the ballots and returned them, but because of an overnight rain they were ruined. He and his wife requested new ballots — the form is available from the Yellowstone County Elections Office. They got their new ballots from the county and will return them in person.
"I'm absolutely going to walk them in," Werbelow said. "I'm not taking any chances at all."
Isolated reports of missing or vandalized completed ballots have been bubbling up all week.
A voter who lives in a neighborhood south of Rimrock Road in midtown Billings said her ballots were pulled from her mailbox sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning.
"There's been no sign of them since," she said on Wednesday.
A similar incident occurred in a neighborhood near Shiloh Road and Monad Road during the same time period. A woman posting on Nextdoor, a neighborhood-based social media site, said she'd placed her completed ballot in her mailbox on Monday, forgetting the holiday, and then discovered it missing.
"The next day (it) disappeared," she wrote. "Anybody know why this would’ve happened? Did it happen to any one else?"
Voters who suspect their ballot has been taken from their mailbox can do a few things. The state has its My Voter Page, a website that allows voters to track the progress of their ballot once it goes into the mail.
If the ballot doesn't show up on My Voter Page after a few days, there's a chance it's become lost or stolen. At that point voters can request a new ballot from the county elections office, which will supply the new ballot and cancel the old one so that it can't be processed or counted.
Finally, if someone suspects a ballot has been stolen the voter may call Billings Police if they live in the city or the Yellowstone County Sheriff's office if they live in the county and report the theft.
Ultimately, mail theft is investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and is a federal crime.
Justine Cool, who works for the U.S. Postal Service in Billings, said that since ballots were just mailed out, a large number of presumably completed ballots are being returned to the county elections office right now.
The postal drop boxes she emptied on Tuesday were "super full" and nearly stuffed to capacity. It was surprising, she said.
When Werbelow learned his ballot had been taken, he wondered if he had been specifically targeted. He and his wife have a yard sign for President Donald Trump in front of their house.
It frustrates him. Candidates and their supporters should debate and send out mailers and put their ads online and on television, he said. But when that bleeds into snatching ballots from people's mailboxes, it's become a serious problem, he said.
"I don't want people messing with the election," he said. "I think the election needs to be honest."
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