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Test-runs of MT's new election system to begin with 2022 primaries

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Election 2020

A voter looks on as she fills out her ballot at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds Bozeman on Nov. 3, 2020. 

For the first time since 2005, Montana election administrators in some counties will begin running the state's new voter management system alongside the current system in a series of “parallel tests” before a more-broad deployment next year.

The current schedule calls for all the state’s counties to switch over to the new “ElectMT” system on the third week of 2023, state Elections Manager Stuart Fuller told lawmakers Thursday.

Before that happens, Fuller said, 15 counties will conduct parallel tests during the 2022 primary and general federal elections. That will give those election workers the opportunity to test-drive the ElectMT system while the official election processes — from registering voters to printing, mailing and accepting ballots — will be run on the tried-and-true MontanaVotes system.

MontanaVotes was adopted statewide in 2006, and the state has been developing a successor to the aging system since 2019.

Plans by Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen to switch over to the new system earlier this year were pushed back at the last minute, following opposition from alarmed election administrators who said there were too many bugs remaining in the system at the time. They were also concerned the earlier launch would have precluded them from running parallel tests during federal elections.

Fuller told the State Administration and Veterans Affairs Interim Committee that the 15 counties selected for testing this year ran the gamut both geographically and in terms of population — from tiny Petroleum County to the relatively metropolitan Flathead.

Rina Moore, the Cascade County Election administrator, noted how relieved she and her counterparts elsewhere in the state were when Jacobsen’s office announced in late December that they’d have another year to test the system for potential issues.

Counties testing the ElectMT system this year, including hers, will only need to run parallel elections in a handful of precincts during the primaries, she said, followed by county-wide parallel tests during the general elections.

“We feel this is going to be a fantastic program, we’ve come a long ways since our testing in December,” Moore said. “And we’re hoping that by the end of the year everything is going to be smooth and it’s going to be a fabulous program.”

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