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Montana's voter-database conversion won't happen in 2022

Decision by Jacobsen not unexpected
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Posted at 11:02 AM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 13:26:00-05

HELENA — As expected, Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen on Monday officially pulled the plug on launching a new statewide voter database in 2022.

“Montana will not launch an election-management system that isn’t ready, and it’s not ready,” she said in a statement Monday morning, after a meeting with her staff, county election officers, and the new system’s developer.

Jacobsen’s decision, which was telegraphed at a legislative committee meeting last Thursday, means the 2022 elections in Montana will use the state’s current voter database, known as Montana Votes.

Jacobsen said her office will be discussing the next steps for the new system with the company developing the software, but gave no indication what those steps may be.

Jacobsen told lawmakers last week she wouldn’t launch the new system, called ElectMT, unless local election officials agreed it was ready – and those officials said last Thursday it was not ready, because it still had some unresolved glitches and had not been tested in a live election.

The state has been using a statewide voter-registration database for 15 years, under Montana Votes. Jacobsen’s predecessor, Corey Stapleton, decided to buy a new system several years ago.

The voter database is used by all 56 county election offices in preparing and issuing absentee ballots, making sure voters aren’t registered in more than one location, checking signatures on mailed ballots and validating signatures on initiative petitions. It’s a key element for election security.

Stapleton’s office was working on the conversion to ElectMT in 2020 and Jacobsen – his chief deputy before winning election to the job and taking office in 2021 -- had planned to have the system ready for the 2022 elections, her office said.

But local election officials told the Interim State Administration and Veterans Affairs Committee in November that ElectMT system had not been tested in a live election – and that it should be, before the old software system is abandoned.