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California Secretary of State finalizing voting regulations aimed at Shasta County

Casting ballots in Sacramento, Cal.
Andrew Nixon
Capital Public Radio
Casting ballots in Sacramento, Cal.

The California Secretary of State is accepting public comment on proposed regulations, some of which outline the procedures to hand-count ballots. Those changes are targeted at Shasta County, where an increasingly conservative majority on the board of supervisors voted to start hand-counting future election results.

In Northern California, Shasta County became the first and only county in the state to go back to hand-counting ballots in elections earlier this year. Elections officials in California have been working on specific procedures for hand-counting ballots for months.

According to Deputy Secretary of State Susan Lapsley, California hasn’t counted every ballot by hand for decades, and those processes need to be outlined.

“I think there’s unique challenges around hand-tallying that you don’t have with machines, right? The accuracy issue is huge," she said.

Shasta County moved from hand-counting to a punch-card system in 1974.

Lapsley said by removing machines from the process, a lot more people will be handling the ballots.

There needs to be rules to ensure that the ballots are accounted for and haven’t been tampered with.

The new rules state that ballots will have to be recounted using a machine to check if there’s a difference from hand-counting.

Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen said they’ve already been preparing in anticipation of these regulations. She said one major challenge will be staffing.

“My concern is about number one, being able to recruit enough people to actually attend every single day, having people drop out, having people no-show the next day, that kind of thing," she said.

Darling Allen estimated they’d need around 1,300 temporary staff to meet the required deadlines.

One possible solution is having county employees join in to count ballots.

Darling Allen added space will also be a challenge. The current county elections office in Redding is too small to host the needed staff and storage space for counting all the ballots.

To be approved in time for the next election this November, the county needs to have a plan ready by early July. They’ll then have to work with the Secretary of State’s office to get the plan approved.

A public comment period for the proposed regulations is open through July 5th. Lapsley said the regulations could be finalized around mid-to-late summer.

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 west coast.