California’s Shasta County Abandons Plan To Hand Count Election

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After nearly a year of controversy and consternation in northern California’s hyper-conservative Shasta County, California, Shasta County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen confirmed yesterday that the county will not hand count this election’s ballots. 

In a press conference yesterday, Darling Allen pointed to the much higher-than-expected turnout as the ultimate reason for the county’s decision to use Hart InterCivic Vote Tabulating Machines rather than follow through with an attempt to hand count the ballots. 

While the choices on the ballot are not particularly notable for democracy — voters will decide three measures related to the creation of a new fire protection district and a seat on a school district board of trustees — the way the ballots are counted is. 

As recently as last week it was unclear if the election officials of Shasta County would hand count the results of today’s election. Rhetoric leading up to Election Day had become so heated that Darling Allen — the lone Democratic countywide elected official in Shasta County — said she is preparing for the election in conjunction with local law enforcement. 

Representatives from the secretary of state’s office are expected to be at the polls observing today as are representatives from the League of Women Voters to “reassure the community of the validity of [the] Shasta County voting process and results, all of which historically are without fault.”  

The battle to hand count in Shasta County has been a nearly year-long endeavor.

The drama surrounding hand counting in Shasta County has been ongoing since the beginning of the year. In January, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, which is controlled by Republicans, voted to cancel its contract with Dominion Voting Systems. Since 2020, Dominion has been subject to an onslaught of false conspiracy theories about the safety of its machines, fueled by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans nationwide. 

Void of an electronic system to tabulate ballots, Darling Allen sent a letter to the board in March, advising it to reinstate its contract with Dominion or enter into a new agreement with a different company. Instead, one day later, the board voted along party lines to hand count all ballots in the county’s next election.

While hand counting can sometimes be useful to confirm results, it is a time-consuming and inaccurate primary counting method, which is what Shasta County initially sought to do.

Months later, in September, the California Legislature took action to curb Shasta County’s plans. Both chambers passed Assembly Bill 969, which changed how counties handle contracts and plans for voting systems — ensuring that counties are prepared to conduct elections at all times and avoid the uncertainty that was plaguing Shasta County. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the legislation in October, at which point the county was legally required to use electronic voting machines in upcoming elections. Though the debate should have ended there, it only continued.

Even after hand counting was banned across the state, efforts to defy the new law continued in Shasta County.

In late October, a group of nonpartisan California-based advocacy groups outlined multiple concerns about the upcoming elections in Shasta County that required an “urgent, decisive, and sustained response” from Secretary of State Shirley Weber (D).

Among the concerns were statements made by Patrick Jones (R), the chair of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, who claimed that the “supervisors were still committed to implementing a hand count regardless of what the law says.”

Jones had also described the county’s ballot scanners as “fraudulent” and “unauthorized” and Supervisor Kevin Crye (R) had questioned whether A.B. 969 applies to Shasta County. The groups raised additional concerns about the potential diversion of resources as a result of the Republican-spread misinformation.

Just days later, Weber issued a warning to the board, making clear in a letter that A.B. 969 applies to Shasta County and any elections held after the bill was enacted. Weber’s office also stated that it stood “ready to take any actions necessary” to ensure the county conducts all elections in accordance with state law.

Yesterday’s press conference is welcome news for voters, though it remains to be seen if Jones will accept the pending election results. 

Learn more about Shasta County’s efforts here.

Read more about Republican hand counting here.

Read the new bill banning hand counting here.