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Yellowstone County responds to citizens' election concerns

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Posted at 11:19 PM, Feb 27, 2023

BILLINGS - Yellowstone County Commissioners are taking steps to improve the election process.

The changes come after some expressed concerns during last year's election, including just how long it took to receive the results.

Commissioners and the election administrator addressed some of those questions on Monday.

The county has a plan to hire some more people to help with election security and integrity.

When you're an elections administrator, there's no day bigger than Election Day and last November's election was especially memorable for Ginger Aldrich. It was her first as Yellowstone County's new elections administrator.

"People always want their election results quickly and it's important that election results are accurate," said Aldrich.

Aldrich says she wanted to get things right but that did mean a bit of a delay in getting results out.

"We had new staff that had not gone through procedures before and so we wanted to ensure that anything we released to the public was accurate and it took a little bit more time to do that," Aldrich said.

And Aldrich may soon have even more new staff starting with county commissioners looking to approve a contract on Tuesday to hire a former interim election administrator Kevin Gillen to work under Aldrich.

"We asked her what she needed," said Commissioner John Ostlund, R-Yellowstone County. "Kevin is the answer to one of those questions. Elections are important. They're one of the most fundamental rights for American citizens and we want them to be correct."

That's also the hope of a group called Montanans In Action.

Peggy Miller is a member of the group which has several concerns about elections, among them ballot harvesting, where people can collect and submit the ballots of others.

"We witnessed several people coming in really and ballot harvesting," Miller said. "They had stacks of envelopes and they were bringing them in.

The group also wants to make sure voter rolls are updated when someone dies, a process Aldrich says can take up to six years because of federal laws.

"That is a method of protecting people who have the right to vote and not taking them off when they haven't moved and that perhaps simply they haven't responded to a notice," Aldrich said.

She also said death certificates and obituaries can help take someone off the voter rolls sooner.

Elections are always in the spotlight but especially now as a county looks to bring even more transparency to the process.

"There's a lot of concern out there about integrity and transparency of elections and a strong desire to have that improves significantly in the future," said Scott Simon, who is also part of Montanans In Action.

"We're committed to transparency about what we're doing and how we're improving," said Aldrich.