California All But Bans Hand Vote Counting

Originally published October 6, 2023 10:40 am PDT

California Governor Gavin Newsom has sanctioned a bill on Wednesday that will significantly curtail the freedom of local authorities to hand-count ballots.

The development comes following a northern county’s governing board’s decision to manually tally votes after terminating its engagement with Dominion Voting Systems less than a year ago.

The legislation, effective immediately, poses a setback for Shasta County, where the conservative-leaning Board of Supervisors had earlier voted to end its contract with Dominion, according to an ABC News report.

The legislation, known as AB 969, which was introduced and gained substantial approval in September, permits manual ballot counting only under specific conditions: during regular elections in regions with fewer than 1,000 registered voters, and special elections with under 5,000 voters.

Moreover, it prohibits counties from ending contracts with voting system providers in the absence of a well-defined transition strategy and an agreed-upon arrangement for a new state-sanctioned system.

A representative from the governor’s office expressed Newsom’s pride in signing the bill, claiming that the objective was not to hinder manual counting in instances where it’s needed like recounts or mandated post-election audits.

The purported aim is rather to ensure “timely, accurate and efficient results in the state’s elections,” according to Erin Mellon, the Communication Director for the governor.

Mellon believes manual counting is impractical, stating, “It’s not just impractical to hand-count, but it harms the election process. It will cost more and slow down our election results significantly.”

In Shasta County, with its sizable voter registration of about 112,000 individuals, the move to hand-count would have designated it as one of the largest U.S. counties to adopt such a method.

This initiative is seen by some as particularly cumbersome in California, a state known for its intricate ballots that often comprise numerous contests and propositions.

However, Shasta County isn’t backing down.

Patrick Jones, the President of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, expressed the board’s resolve to proceed with manual counting, disregarding the new law.

“We made this decision before the legislature acted,” said Jones, asserting that the urgency statute enabling immediate enactment of the law was in violation of the state’s constitution.

He warned of potential litigation if the state attempts to halt its manual counting initiative.

Jones also revealed plans to discuss the removal of recently acquired ballot scanners during a meeting scheduled for October 17, alleging that the board was deceived about the machines’ capabilities.

“The board was misled, lied to. We purchased something that we clearly did not want to purchase on fraudulent information,” Jones stated.

Shasta County, a stronghold of conservative ideology in California, has witnessed a shift in its political landscape.

The county’s governing board, once dominated by establishment conservatives, has seen an influx of representatives aligning with a more independent, populist branch of the Republican Party who value voter integrity.