HELENA — At a legislative committee meeting Thursday, representatives from the Montana Secretary of State’s Office said, despite some challenges, they’re pleased so far with a new statewide elections database.
“Just like a phone, we've been doing updates and we've encountered bugs – you know, when you implement a new system, it's not 100%,” said Stuart Fuller, election and voter services manager for the Secretary of State’s Office.
The State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Interim Committee got an update on the ElectMT system, which has now been in place for almost a full year – and through three main election dates: school elections in May, municipal primaries in June and municipal general elections this week.
The statewide voter database is a key element for election security. All 56 county election offices use it for things like issuing ballots, making sure voters aren’t registered twice and checking voter signatures. But leaders said the previous system, Montana Votes, had become outdated, and a transition had been in the works for several years.
ElectMT officially replaced Montana Votes statewide in January, after Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen delayed the switch – originally planned for 2022 – to make sure the new system was ready. Fuller told lawmakers the new system gives election officials some significantly improved features.
“A number of other things that really make this system more usable, more modern, and able to serve our customers, the voters of the state, in a better manner,” he said.
For example, Fuller said they’ve been able to implement more accurate mapping systems, allowing them to determine residents’ actual locations instead of relying on street address ranges.
“I think a good example of this is a person that lives in a very narrow corner of one county, where their driveway is in one county and their house is in another county,” he said. “And for years they were actually probably voting in the wrong county just because the old system had everything in ranges.”
ElectMT also comes along with an updated online voter portal, taking the place of the old My Voter Page. The new site will allow voters to find information and sample ballots for local elections as well as statewide elections.
Fuller said their next task is to get updated precinct maps for all counties loaded into the system ahead of the 2024 elections – when state House and Senate members will be chosen from newly redrawn districts. He said they’ve completed that work in 14 counties, with another 23 scheduled and 19 yet to be given a final timeline. They hope to finish all counties by mid-December.
Fuller said they’ve been making updates to ElectMT regularly, in consultation with county election administrators. He said, while they’ve received a wide range of feedback from local officials, most have been happy with the switch.
Jen Hensley, representing the Missoula County elections office, reinforced that message Thursday.
“They’re so pleased with ElectMT,” she said. “Echoing the Secretary of State’s Office comments – it’s not perfect. Could it be better? Absolutely, and we’re working with the office to make it better.”
There were also questions during Thursday’s meeting about an issue that came up during this week’s municipal elections, when voters in Kalispell received ballots based on their previous ward boundaries, instead of the updated boundaries approved in December 2021. However, Flathead County’s election administrator sent an email to the committee, saying that was caused by a clerical error at the local level, not by any issue with the ElectMT software.