The director of elections and voter services appointed by Secretary of State Corey Stapleton earlier this year has left the office.
Derek J. Oestreicher confirmed Wednesday morning he no longer works for the secretary of state.
"All that I will say is that it was an incredible opportunity to work in Corey Stapleton's administration, and it was a privilege and an honor to serve the Secretary of State Office, to serve the people of Montana and to administer the first special election in our state in 48 years. I'm looking forward to my next opportunity."
Stapleton did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Elections officials around the state had heard of Oestreicher's departure.
Missoula Deputy County Attorney Matt Jennings said Thursday he was surprised by the change. Missoula County and Stapleton have been at odds over the secretary of state's claims of ballot fraud in the county.
"I had talked to Derek a couple of times about some of the comments that his boss had made with Missoula County employees," Jennings said.
An email exchange between Stapleton and Missoula County Elections Administer Rebecca Connors earlier this year showed a rift over what Stapleton called voter fraud but Connors says was a mix-up.
There was a single miscounted ballot in the county during the May special election for Montana's U.S. House seat, and 91 ballots were rejected because of signature issues out of 47,000 cast. Stapleton has singled out the county, though more ballots were rejected in other counties.
"I thought we had an opportunity with Derek to sort of get a little bit more accurate information, tone down some of the rhetoric, make sure we all sort of understood what was actually going on with some of these signature issues," Jennings said.
"I was kind of optimistic with Derek we were going to be able to have some productive conversations and get to the bottom of this," he said. "... What I've heard the last couple days is maybe things aren't as smooth over there in the Secretary of State's Office as we'd hope."
Regina Plettenberg, president of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders and Election Administrators, said Wednesday she is sad to see Oestreicher go.
“We are very sorry because although Derek was new to elections, he has now been through a federal election and he was really great to work with.”
She said that though her members and the Secretary of State’s Office had gotten off to a rocky start — Stapleton opposed conducting the May special election by mail while all but two of the state’s county clerks supported it because it would have saved money — she hopes the relationship can improve going forward.
The organization has invited Stapleton to its upcoming convention in the hopes of improving communication.
"We do want to understand the concerns so that we know how to move forward in the future with handling signature verification and rejection of ballots," Plettenberg said.