Shasta County, California Wants to Hand Count Votes Again

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Shasta County, California took the first steps on Monday toward hand counting ballots cast in the 2024 election. On Monday, the Shasta County Elections Commission — the advisory body that makes elections-related decisions to the county’s Board of Supervisors — voted to recommend that all ballots for the upcoming election be counted by hand. 

The commission submitted a report to the board of supervisors that is riddled with conspiracy theories related to the 2020 election and the efficacy of voting machines. “It is the belief of the Commission that, in order to increase public trust in the Shasta County election processes, there should be a local ordinance mandating that Shasta County conduct their elections using hand counting of ballots at the precincts with paper poll books,” the report states. 

It then cites a number of reasons why the five-member commission supports hand count voting: “No one can observe the actual tally of ballots by a machine,” credible evidence that voting machines are secretly connected to the internet, and allegations that the U.S. and Shasta County “were the victims of a coordinated multi-state conspiracy to defraud the 2020 General Election using voting machines.”

Should the Shasta County Board of Supervisors take up the commission’s recommendations and move to count ballots by hand, it would be in violation of California and federal law, according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D). 

This isn’t the first time that Shasta County — a red county in a blue state — tried to hand count votes in an election. In January  2023, the board of supervisors voted 3-2 to cancel its contract with Dominion Voting Systems — the company that produces voting machines across the country and was at the center of a right-wing conspiracy during the 2020 election — kicking off a legal back-and-forth with the state officials. 

After the vote, Bonta sent a letter warning that the county would be in violation of state and federal law if they ditch their electronic voting system. Despite the massive cost and spike in resources to move to hand counting ballots, the county started preparations to hand count for a local election in November 2023. 

But then the Democratic supermajority in the California Legislature passed a law requiring all counties to count votes through electronic voting machines. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) quickly signed the bill into law and Shasta County’s November 2023 election fully complied with the law — all 127 ballots were counted through an electronic machine, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the proliferation of conspiracy theories and unproven allegations of voter fraud prompted many politicians and election officials to advocate for hand counting votes. But there’s been numerous studies that prove hand counting votes to be an extremely expensive endeavor that’s slow and prone to errors. 

The vote in Shasta County to hand count ballots last year drew national attention after Cochise County in Arizona took similar measures. At the time of the Shasta County vote, Democracy Docket’s Madeleine Greenberg analyzed how election conspiracy theories were manifesting in small, red counties like Shasta and Cochise counties:

The vote to hand count all ballots in Shasta County did not happen in a vacuum. It is part of a larger trend wherein election deniers or conspiracy theorists are elevated to public office and use their positions to foment distrust and promulgate misinformation and disinformation about election procedures that are credibly proven to be safe and secure. Before, during and after the 2022 midterm elections, Cochise County (a small red county in Arizona) was embroiled in controversy and faced several lawsuits after the county supervisors attempted different hand counts, sued their own election director, refused to certify the results of the election and transferred election oversight to the partisan county recorder. All of this drama was largely rooted in conspiracies about the security of electronic voting machines and election skepticism.

Despite the California law requiring electronic voting systems, the recommendation from the Shasta County Elections Commission claims that the law violates the county’s rights to run elections the way they want. It’s now up to the board of supervisors to decide whether or not to move forward with a mandate to count votes by hand. 

Read the full recommendation to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors here.
Learn more about Shasta County’s efforts to count votes by hand here.