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Montana county elections officials concerned over Stapleton’s new voter system rollout

Posted at 5:33 PM, Jun 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:48:40-04

BILLINGS – Montana county election officials say they are concerned over Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s plan to implement a new election computer system in time for the 2020 elections.

The Montana Free Press reported Thursday the Montana Clerk and Recorders and Election Administrators Association wrote in a letter to Stapleton that it has “grave concerns” with the timeline of the implementation of the new system.

Under Stapleton’s plan, Montana counties would transition to the new election software as early as January 2020. The secretary of state is the chief elections officer in Montana.

In the letter, Stephanie Verhasselt, president of the association, wrote, “while we are eager to continue supporting the conversion, we urge the development of a more attainable timeline.”

The association said elections officials across Montana need time to test the system and train staff outside of a presidential election cycle.

“We believe the current project development timeline is simply too aggressive and stands to put the election process in Montana at risk,” Verhasselt wrote.

Stapleton told the Montana Free Press he shares the concerns of the clerk and recorders association.

“But I have a bias towards action. We made a decision that we wanted to fix some things that were wrong. We had some really bad IT situations in the office, and we are at risk. Montana is at risk,” he said.

Yellowstone County Elections Administrator Bret Rutherford said he is concerned with the timeline of the voter system roll out because there will be nothing to test it on.

“This is going into one of the biggest elections I will probably ever be a part of in my life. That’s scary,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford said he was in the office in 2006 when the current system, Montana Votes, was rolled out. He said the rollout happened over two years with chances to test the software during smaller elections. That year also did not include a presidential race.

Rutherford likes what he sees from the new system, just not how it is being implemented.

“I like some of the stuff I saw. I am not anti-new system. It’s just how we roll it out.”

Additional reporting by Samantha Sullivan, MTN News