California demands compliance after voting rights’ groups warns about Shasta County election

California’s Secretary of State has told the Shasta County Board of Supervisors in a letter that it cannot hand-count ballots in its Nov. 7 special election.

In a letter sent Friday to the board and Cathy Darling Allen, Shasta’s registrar of voters, Secretary of State Shirley Weber said the county must comply with new legislation that bars the hand-counting of ballots. The letter was sent in response to one her office received just days earlier from a nonpartisan coalition of voting rights groups that voiced concerns about the safety and integrity of the vote.

Next week’s election will be the first in Shasta since the board voted to scrap its contract with Dominion Voting Systems made, in part, over unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 election. Three far-right board members — Patrick Jones, Chris Kelstrom, and Kevin Crye — have perpetuated the claim that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, and that the safest way to tally ballots is to do so by hand, which studies show is false.

Assembly Bill 969, authored by Santa Cruz Democrat and former county elections official Gail Pellerin and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 4, was inspired by Shasta County’s abrupt removal of its voting system. The bill immediately requires county boards to have a state- or federal-approved voting system in place before ending a contract with its current one. A manual tally is not approved at the state or federal level.

Jones, the president of the board, and Crye, who is facing a recall effort for his seat, have spoken publicly about their intended refusal to comply with AB 969 and state “tyranny.”

In her letter, Weber directly addressed a potential refusal to comply with state law.

“My office has been informed that some members of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors have claimed that AB 969 limitations on a manual vote count ... are not applicable to Shasta County’s upcoming November 7, 2023, election,” she wrote.

“The claim is based on an unfounded theory that Shasta County is ‘grandfathered’ in and may still implement a hand count as the Board of Supervisors ‘made this decision before the legislature acted.’ Such a claim is wholly without merit and has no basis in law ... To be clear, Shasta County is subject to all provisions enacted and signed into law by AB 969.”

Weber said her office “stands ready to take any actions necessary to ensure that Shasta County conducts all elections in accordance with state law.”

Both letters were also sent to Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office, as well as Pellerin and Sen. Steve Glazer, chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments.