WASHINGTON, D.C. — Earlier this week, a group of nonpartisan California-based advocacy groups sent a letter to California Secretary of State Shirley Weber (D) outlining numerous concerns about the upcoming elections in Shasta County that require “urgent, decisive, and sustained response” from Weber’s office.
The letter, sent by the California Voter Foundation, California Common Cause, League of Women Voters of California, ACLU of Northern California, Verified Voting and Disability Rights California, lists three “grave concerns” including:
- Patrick Jones (R), the chair of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, making various statements indicating that the county will not comply with recently enacted legislation that prohibits Shasta County from hand counting. Among Jones’ many hostile statements, he has said that the “supervisors were still committed to implementing a hand count regardless of what the law says.”
- The high risk for “voter confusion, distrust, and disenfranchisement due to the spread of misinformation and disinformation” spread by Jones and his allies. Jones has described the county’s ballot-scanners as “fraudulent” and “unauthorized” and Supervisor Kevin Crye (R) has questioned whether the new law applies to Shasta County.
- The fact that the Shasta County elections office will have to divert “crucial” time and resources as a result of the previous concerns. The groups argue that the time and resources would be better spent on planning for a new voting system, including the implementation of new accessible voting machines. Instead, they claim the resources have been used to combat a stated refusal to comply with the law and a committee proposed by Jones that would oversee all election related activities in Shasta County in a way the county counsel has concluded is “legally insufficient and unenforceable.”
Shasta County has a history of promoting conspiracies about voting machines and elections. The county board of supervisors, which is controlled by conservatives, previously canceled its contract with Dominion Voting Systems, and subsequently voted to hand count all ballots in the upcoming election. While hand counting can sometimes be useful to confirm results, it is a time consuming and inaccurate primary counting method.
In response to Shasta County’s plan to hand count all ballots, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 969, which curbed hand counting in the state, ensured counties are prepared to conduct elections and forced Shasta County to use electronic voting systems. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the bill into law earlier this month.
In order to address the concerns, the advocacy groups ask Weber to:
- Remind Jones and Crye that Shasta County must follow federal and state laws, including the recently enacted legislation,
- Arrange for staff from the secretary of state’s office to conduct in-person monitoring of the November 2023 and March 2024 elections within the county,
- Provide Shasta County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Darling Allen with any assistance Allen requests to help her fulfill her duties in the face of interference and
- Support the county elections office’s voter education leading up to the upcoming elections “to help ensure the dissemination of accurate information and to engage Shasta County residents in the democratic process,” and provide messaging on voting methods and vote tabulation and the safety and security of computerized voting systems.
Shasta County followed in the footsteps of Arizona’s Cochise County, which voted to conduct a hand count audit of all early ballots cast in the county in the November 2022 elections. The county was sued over the plan, and a judge subsequently ruled the county could not proceed with the hand count. The county continued to fight the ruling until just this month, when the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision and deemed the plan illegal.
Since 2020, Dominion has been subject to an onslaught of false conspiracy theories about the safety of its machines, fueled by Republicans nationwide. One Republican who pushed the theories was the newly elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Mike Johnson (R-La.), who outlandishly alleged that Dominion “came from” Venezuelan Dictator Hugo Chávez.
Shasta County’s elections will be put to the test on Nov. 7, when the upcoming special elections will be held.