Torn up ballots

Torn up ballots that Steve Tobin of Billings found on the ground.

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These are strange times to be a voter.

Steve Tobin lives on Avenue F near Pioneer Park and was walking to his office in downtown Billings Tuesday morning when he saw what looked like a pile of trash at the base of a tree near the street.

As he approached, he realized what it was. 

"There was a torn up ballot," he said. "I didn't know what to do with it."

Torn up ballots

Torn up ballots that Steve Tobin of Billings found on the ground.

So he took a bunch of photos with his phone and kept on walking, checked in at his office and then dropped his own ballot off at the elections office at the Yellowstone County Courthouse.

When he walked back home later in the day, the torn up ballot was still there at the base of the tree. Again he wondered if he ought to do anything with it. So he called a friend and told her what he'd found. 

"She said, 'Dude, you've got to go pick that up,'" Tobin said with a laugh Tuesday. 

Picking up the pieces of what turned out to be two ballots, Tobin saw that the name and address were still legible. They were from a home a little more than a block away from Tobin's house. In fact, they were neighbors of his friend, and she had their phone number.

That's when Matt Prinkki got a call from his neighbor telling him that his and his wife's ballots had been found torn up in the street on Avenue F. 

"I don't what to make of it," Prinkki said. "I don't know who took them. I don't know why."

Prinkki and his wife had gotten their ballot in the mail on Saturday and filled them out over the weekend. They placed them in their mailbox to be collected on Monday, where they sat most of the day. 

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Neither Prinkki nor his wife remembered that Monday, Columbus Day, was a federal holiday with no scheduled mail collection. By the end of the day the ballots were gone from the mailbox and Prinkki said he figured they'd been picked up by their mail carrier. 

A similar scenario played out in a neighborhood near Shiloh and Monad Road. 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 have questions or concerns about the status of their ballot once they've placed it in the mail can track its progress at My Voter Page on the Montana Secretary of State website

If it appears the ballot is lost, voters can simply request a replacement. 

Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County elections administrator, said any voter needing a replacement ballot can request one using the form from the county's website

Voters print and fill out the form and deliver it to election staff now working at the Expo Center at MetraPark until 8 p.m. on Election Day, where they'll print out a new ballot. 

Voters can also print out the form, fill it out and then scan it into their computers and email it to elections staff, who will then mail out a new ballot. 

Once the elections office produces a new ballot for a voter, the old ballot is immediately voided so that it can no longer be submitted or counted.

Prinkki and his wife requested new ballots Tuesday, which they'll then hand-deliver to the elections office at the county courthouse. He said they'd never had a problem with ballots before. 

Tobin was caught off guard by the whole experience. 

"It's just kind of a sign of the times, I guess," he said. 

This article originally ran on billingsgazette.com.

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