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California state bill could stop Shasta County's effort to hand count ballots

David Monniaux
Wikimedia Commons
The California State Capitol building in Sacramento

A decision earlier this year by Shasta County supervisors to upend their elections system has drawn the attention of California lawmakers.

Introduced by Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, D-Santa Cruz, AB 969 directly targets Shasta County.

This year, the county’s board of supervisors voted to scrap their current voting system based on unproven claims of election fraud.

During a state senate committee meeting Wednesday, Pellerin said the bill would ban hand-counting in elections with more than 1,000 registered voters. Shasta County has over 100,000 voters.

“AB 969 aims to reflect the reality of running an election in the 21st century, and the infeasibility of hand-counting tens of thousands of ballots with multiple ballot contests," she said.

The bill would also prevent counties from getting rid of their voting system before finding a replacement. Shasta County went without a way to conduct elections at all for around a month this spring before they picked a new voting equipment provider.

State Senator Brian Dahle, R-District 1, opposed the bill, saying it should be up to the voters to keep their county officials in check.

“This is about local control," he said. "This is about the ability for counties to make good decisions or bad. And sometimes they make bad ones that we don’t agree with but we shouldn’t hammer them.”

Pellerin said this bill is meant to ensure California elections remain secure and accurate. California has very long and complicated ballots, which aren’t suited for counting by hand, according to the Shasta County Elections Office.

Californians vote on a large number of ballot measures and other political offices every election. In some cases there can be over 30 contests on one ballot. A high number of contests means longer times needed to count the ballots by hand.

The bill was approved by the senate committee on government and finance on Wednesday. If the bill is passed by lawmakers, it would take effect immediately after being signed by the governor.

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.