© 2024 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
Listen | Discover | Engage a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Shasta supervisors pursue hand count election plan, details remain unclear

Standing at a speaker's podium, a woman with long, grey hair speaks and motions with her hands
Shasta County
County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen asks the board of supervisors to choose a vendor for their voting system at their meeting on March 28, 2023

After ditching Dominion Voting Systems in January, Shasta County still doesn’t have a clear way to conduct elections. The county’s Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to try hand counting every ballot.

Shasta County supervisors moved forward with an unprecedented plan to hand-count every ballot in future elections. No other county in California counts all ballots by hand.

During the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen pleaded with supervisors to choose one of three certified voting systems in California to avoid running afoul of state and federal laws.

“You can hear the irritation in my voice,” she said. “But I have spent the last two-and-a-half years defending a process that is not broken.”

On Monday, Darling Allen sent a letter outlining the urgency that county supervisors choose a certified voting system to be prepared for upcoming elections.

Darling Allen estimated the board would need to provide around $1.6 million and 1,200-1,300 new staff members if they wanted to count the results of the entire election by hand.

“While my office is full of extremely competent and prepared professionals, even we cannot perform miracles,” she said.

The estimated cost Darling Allen provided is just to hire the temporary staff. She said that doesn’t include post-election audits and rental of a facility large enough to accommodate the ballot-counting teams.

In January, Shasta County supervisors voted 3-2 to cancel their contract with Dominion Voting Systems, amidst unproven claims that the machines were used to switch votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Dominion has since filed multiple defamation lawsuits against Trump supporters for spreading such false claims, including a high profile case against Fox News.

The supervisors again voted 3-2 to uphold their decision in late February. The county elections department then asked the board to choose another voting system, but they chose to take no action, leaving the county without a way to conduct elections at all.

Much of Darling Allen’s cost and staffing estimates were contained in a 26-page report she included with her letter analyzing the cost and considerations of implementing a “manual tally of ballots.”

“The Elections Department strongly advises against the Board pursuing a full manual tally,” the report said. “That path puts each future election at risk of failure, inviting litigation, threatening election results, and undermining confidence in the county’s elections.”

Darling Allen said even if the county decides to count the ballots by hand, they still need to pick a state certified voting system to handle the many other aspects of an election, including printing ballots and providing a way for people with disabilities to vote independently.

Officials with California’s Secretary of State responded to the recent decisions in Shasta County.

“The Secretary of State is prepared to take any necessary action to ensure that every California voter has the opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” said a spokesperson for the California Secretary of State.

According to Darling Allen, it would cost the county at least an additional $1 million over the next two years to select another voting system rather than sticking with Dominion.

But, Board Chair Patrick Jones remained steadfast in his commitment to hand-counting ballots.

“I believe, ultimately, it is the way to restore trust to the voters,” he said.

Two of the five members on the board remain opposed to the idea of eliminating voting machines.

“We cannot ditch a machine without having something in place,” said Supervisor Tim Garman. “I’m not going to open up our county to that liability and to those lawsuits. It would not be fiscally responsible to do so.”

But despite these warnings, supervisors voted 3-2 to direct staff to prepare a plan to hand-count ballots and come back to the board for approval.

Jones said the hand count plan would include contracting with either ES&S or Hart Intercivic, the other two certified vendors besides Dominion. But in that plan the county would only use the absolutely necessary parts of the voting system, such as the software used to create ballots and accessibility equipment.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.