GREAT FALLS — GREAT FALLS — The three Cascade County Commissioners interviewed four candidates for the open Election Administrator position on Tuesday, nearly two months after removing election duties from the Clerk and Recorders office and elected official Sandra Merchant.
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The four candidates are Lynn DeRoche, Terry Thompson, Nancy Donovan, and Rina Fontana Moore.
The order of interviews was determined by drawing names from a hat at the start of the special meeting. Each candidate was asked the same set of 20 questions by the three commissioners, with no chance for follow up or additional questioning to keep things fair.
The first candidate to interview was Fontana Moore, who ran the Clerk and Recorders office for 16 years before losing to Merchant by 31 votes in November of 2022. The election went to a recount due to the slim margin of error.
“I think our process was very good,” Moore told the commission. “I would just like to continue on with the job because I very much enjoyed working with the public, answering the phones, setting up elections and working with the media. I enjoyed all of it.”
Moore touted her experience in the office and her statewide reputation among the other election administrators. She believes the most important part of running elections is consistency.
“Elections have to be consistent,” she said. “You have to be able to look at your shortcomings, take criticism and maintain consistency. That’s how you have a successful process.”
The second candidate up was Lynn DeRoche, who served as Moore’s deputy in the Clerk and Recorders office for more than a decade. She also served as the court appointed monitor during the 2023 library levy election, run by Merchant.
“I’ve been following the 2023 elections and I have the same concerns as the board of commissioners and I feel like I can come in and help the elections department,” DeRoche said.
During her time monitoring the elections office in 2023, she said she encountered staff members the weren’t properly trained. She would focus on cross training employees if selected as the new election administrator.
DeRoche said her number one priority would be transparency and education.
“The most important thing is communication with the public. You have to have communication, if you don’t have that, then things can go wrong, DeRoche said. “Communicating with the public is the number one priority and getting that trust back in the election process.”
The third candidate interviewed was Terry Thompson, who spent 16 years as the CEO of the Great Falls Association Realtors, has served on two neighborhood councils and currently sits on the airport authority board.
“I’m an advocate for this community,” Thompson said. “I can clearly see that the community is divided and it’s divided primarily on party lines. And because I’m a motivated leader and I specialize in problem solving, I think I have an opportunity to take a negative and make it a positive.”
Thompson is the only candidate who’s never worked in an elections office, but believes her reputation and track record as a problem solver and executive qualify her to lead the department in a non partisan way. She’s spent the last several week researching Montana statute and is ready to utilize state resources to get up to speed.
"If I don’t know the skill set, I’m going to find it and I will learn it,” Thompson said. “I’m not afraid to do webinars, communicate with other election administrators currently doing the job. I have no problem picking up the phone and calling the secretary of state’s office. I will gather the information and get trained to do it.”
The final candidate was Nancy Donovan, who works as a supervisor at the Great Falls post office. She volunteered in the elections office under Merchant and helped run elections over the past year.
“I honestly feel like this (election administration) position has got to be taken off the radar,” Donovan said. “It has to be just a county office that serves the public. All of the public, not just certain parties of the public. It office doesn’t need to be engaged in politics at all this job is about service.”
Donovan believes establishing trust with constituents and ensuring election security are the most vital aspects of the job.
“The last few years since 2020 have been a little hectic,” Donovan said. “It’s brought a lot of attention to our processes and how we do elections and how we manage them. How transparent are they and what safeguards do we have to protect the integrity of every person’s vote. The public has to have complete confidence that the people running the elections are people that they can trust to take care of them.”
The election administrator position comes with a salary of $65,000-$72,000 dependent on experience. Commissioners have scheduled a follow up meeting for Thursday, February 15th at 1 p.m. to review the applicants and potentially decide on a candidate.