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Former Yellowstone County elections administrator talks career

Bret Rutherford.jpg
Posted at 8:21 PM, Oct 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-28 22:21:03-04

Election Day is quickly approaching and for the first time in more than a decade, a new Yellowstone County elections administrator is in charge.

Kevin Gillen, former deputy county attorney, is now the interim election administrator.

On Friday, the former administrator, Bret Rutherford, looked back at his career and the many challenges ahead.

Rutherford resigned as elected administrator on Oct. 7, a position he held since 2010.

Nationwide, there have been challenges to elections and even in Yellowstone County.

Rutherford said he never let that keep him up at night.

In a country divided in a time when the political process is under a microscope, there are a few jobs perhaps more difficult come election time than the one Rutherford had held for the last 17 years.

"It's just volume of people, ballots, volunteers all trying to get it done," Rutherford said.

Rutherford oversaw a team of more than 150 on and leading up to election night.

It can be challenging in any election, but even maybe more so this year.

Rutherford said he received a lot more questions about the integrity of the elections.

"Law says you do this, not that," Rutherford said. "So we're gonna follow the law always. You know, so I always slept well at night knowing that we were just following the law."

Rutherford says he's confident with the elections and the integrity of the vote.

He pointed to the Montana Association Of Election Administrators Voting In Montana website for more information.

He says everything is made public from the testing of machines to observers overseeing the tabulating to post-election audits, and he says recounts have shown the accuracy of the counting in Yellowstone County.

"I didn't mind it at all, because it was another tool," Rutherford said. "We had to show people that yeah, the system works. Ironically, I became the recount master in the state."

Rutherford started with the elections office in October 2005.

And he says the biggest change has been the numbers on the absentee ballot list, which he estimates went from 6,000 to 82,000.

"When I started we had 51 polling places," he said. "There's now 14."

Many of the polls are now at the MetraPark Pavilion for Election Day.

He eventually worked his way up to the top spot in the department in 2010.

And even when he started he says he understood the importance of the job.

"You do have that patriotic sense of duty," he said.

He leaving for personal reasons, but he says he enjoyed the job.

"I always loved it when the voters came in and would talk to us," Rutherford said. "It was a great experience. I wouldn't trade it for anything."